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The absence of your perceived closest rival is usually welcomed, but Gary Portelli has another take on Nature Strip’s absence from She Will Reign’s comeback.

Far from buoyed by trainer John Sadler scratching the rising sprinter, Portelli reckoned the Golden Slipper winner could now find life tougher in Saturday’s $250,000 Inglis Sprint (1100m) at Warwick Farm.

“We thought Nature Strip would go forward and it would be a truly run race. The speed comes out of the race a little bit so Benny (Melham) is going to have to be on his game,” Portelli said.

The Warwick Farm trainer consulted his jockey for the dual Group One winner on Thursday once Sadler opted not to bring Nature Strip to Sydney because blood tests indicated the early stages of a possible virus.

“Nature Strip not being there doesn’t make it a lot easier, it makes the complexion of the race change and Ben’s a bit worried he might get stuck behind inferior horses from barrier one,” Portelli said.

Nature Strip’s withdrawal on Thursday reduced the field to six and the TAB immediately tightened She Will Reign from $1.55 to $1.26.

The Tim Martin-trained Limbo Soul ($5) replaced Nature Strip as second-elect.

Portelli remained confident the market was spot-on for She Will Reign’s first start since she was unplaced in the inaugural $10 million Everest in October, but acknowledged there was an element of uncertainty longer term.

“You’re always conscious of the fact a two-year-old coming back for a three-year-old year has been a bit of a disaster for most, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he said.

Portelli said the $20,000 yearling had matured physically and worked impressively during her break.

“She’s a lot stronger. She’s a heap better in the wind now,” he said.

“She always took a fair bit to get fit. Now she’s easier to train in that regard.”

Portelli plans to send She Will Reign second-up into the Group One Oakleigh Plate (1100m) at Caulfield on February 24, while the Group One $2.5 million TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) on April 7 at Randwick is a major target.

He said the world’s richest race on turf was also on the agenda when the second edition of the now $13 million Everest sprint is staged in October.

“That’s a long-term goal, and why I don’t want to bash her up too much now,” Portelli said.

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