If the exciting Nature Strip is to upstage a host of Australia’s other top sprinters in the Group One TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick, he will have to do something he has not done for 18 months – win twice in a row.
The Chris Waller-trained Nature Strip is favourite to defeat a star-studded TJ Smith Stakes field in Saturday’s premier sprint of the Sydney autumn carnival which features another eight Group One winners in the field of 13.
Nature Strip has firmed from $5 to $3.90 in TJ Smith Stakes odds with the TAB since the final field was declared on Tuesday, with the five-year-old to jump from barrier one under regular jockey James McDonald.
Waller felt the star sprinter raced too keenly in the Group One Lightning Stakes (1000m) at Flemington first-up when fourth as the short-priced favourite but he bounced back to dominate the Group Two Challenge Stakes (1000m) in Sydney.
The gelding won three Group One races in 2019 including the Darley Sprint Classic (1200m) at Flemington during the Melbourne spring carnival but he has not put together back-to-back wins since the spring of 2018.
Waller believes if Nature Strip gets it right on Saturday his rivals will be hard-pressed to beat him and he says the signs are all good heading into the $1.25 million race.
Nature Strip cruised to victory in a barrier trial at Randwick last week which featured TJ Smith contenders Santa Ana Lane and Redzel.
“The horse is very well,” Waller said.
“We gave him a maintenance trial last Friday just to ensure he’s not too fresh.
“Everything is well with him. I haven’t got too much to be concerned about.
“It’s a great field which is what you’d expect and no doubt it will create a lot of interest.
“The best sprinters in the country are there.
“If he repeats his domination in the Darley Sprint up the straight during Melbourne Cup week he’s certainly the one to beat. He showed last start he’s back to his best form.”
Newmarket Handicap-winning three-year-old colt Bivouac was second favourite at $5 on Tuesday with defending champion Santa Ana Lane at $5.50.
Santa Ana Lane closed strongly for second to Nature Strip in last Friday’s trial.
The field also features star filly Loving Gaby who won the weight-for-age Manikato Stakes at her most recent start while the other Group One winners are Pierata, Redzel, Trekking, In Her Time and Exceedance.
Four three-year-olds are taking on the older horses with Group Two Expressway Stakes-winning colt Standout joining Group One winners Bivouac, Exceedance and Loving Gaby.
Standout is trained by Gerald Ryan whose two wins in the TJ Smith Stakes have both been with three-year-olds, the filly Melito in 2010 and colt Trapeze Artist in 2018.