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Image: Steve Hart
James McDonald took Nature Strip to the front and that's were he stayed in the Challenge Stakes

In an ideal scenario, Nature Strip would have been in Melbourne adding the Newmarket Handicap to a Lightning Stakes win.

But the enigmatic sprinter failed to run top three in the Lightning and was back in Sydney on Saturday for the Group Two Challenge Stakes, 20 minutes after Bivouac claimed the Newmarket.

Punters were a little wary as usual with the triple Group One winner an easing $3.10 favourite but they had no cause for concern with the best Nature Strip turning up for the 1100m-race.

James McDonald took him to the front and there he stayed, running at his own pace and kicking clear in the straight.

Redzel ($4.40) went after him but to no avail, finishing three lengths astern with the gallant Jungle Edge ($31) another half neck third.

“That’s what we thought he would do in Melbourne,” McDonald said.

“There’s a little peanut between his ears. Some days it works and some days it doesn’t.

“Chris (Waller) brought him back to Sydney and got him right as he always does.

“And when he gets it right there’s not a feeling like it on a racehorse. He just does his thing and it’s a pleasure sit on top.

“And when he gets it wrong, he gets it terribly wrong.”

His trainer was not taking too much credit for the turnaround and is now looking to the TJ Smith Stakes for which Nature Strip is now second favourite behind Bivouac.

“We maybe took it a bit cheap last start,” Waller said.

“We didn’t really have a tactic to harness how much speed he has and when you rare burning that much gas, the gas runs out.

“I was dead keen to run him in the Canterbury Stakes today but that went pear shaped after last start.

“We will head to the TJ Smith and the Newmarket horses will come up so it will be a great race.”

Jockey Kerrin McEvoy said Redzel had not enjoyed the best of runs.

“Jungle Edge laid in on him when we straightened up and had to switch course,” he said.

“He regrouped and rallied well the last furlong so great run. He feels fantastic.”

Last year’s TJ Smith winner Santa Ana Lane got a long way back early and made some ground late to finish sixth, 4-3/4 lengths from the winner.

Jockey Mark Zahra gave him a pass mark.

“He was OK,” he said.

“It was a very quick-run race and I was off the bridle from the 600 metres so he did well.

“He’s just looking for the trip up to 1200 metres.”

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