Nature Strip has monstered his rivals to smash his Concorde Stakes hoodoo, prompting trainer Chris Waller and jockey James Mcdonald to declare him a more complete athlete.
The multiple Group 1 winner has been beaten as favourite in the race for the past two years but it didn’t stop punters diving in first-up on Saturday and sending him around as a $1.50 elect.
Nature Strip gave them no cause for concern, striding to the front and zooming up the Randwick straight to claim his first Concorde Stakes (1000m), trouncing Wild Ruler ($5) by 2-1/2 lengths with Trekking ($9.50) another half-length away third.
Waller said the seven-year-old was a different horse to 12 months ago when he went through the spring winless and was vulnerable to being taken on for the lead.
“Last year we made excuses for him, but the fact was he was getting taken on by horses that were giving themselves no chance, but he didn’t have a Plan B. He couldn’t relax,” Waller said.
“If a horse takes us on now, we can take a sit quite comfortably and I think that’s the difference between now and then.”
McDonald has been Nature Strip’s regular partner on race days and rated his Concorde win as his best fresh performance.
He credited the horse’s strapper and trackwork rider Stewart Williams for teaching the fierce-going gelding to relax and feels Nature Strip turned the corner when he was able to sit off Eduardo in the TJ Smith Stakes last autumn before racing to victory.
“He (Williams) rides him every day and I can safely say that’s the best I’ve ever felt him first-up,” McDonald said.
“I think the writing was on the wall with his last TJ win when they decided to take him on and that back-fired for them. He was able to take a sit and show that lethal turn of foot that he’s got, but sustain (his) speed.
“He is so balanced….he’s just in a good frame of mind.”
Nature Strip is now an outright $4.50 Everest favourite with TAB fixed odds, ahead of Masked Crusader ($5) and defending champion Classique Legend ($6).
Sam Clipperton was full of praise for Wild Ruler, who trailed Nature Strip throughout and stuck to his task.
“Going into a high-pressure race like that off one trial, he’s fought off Trekking for second and was strong through the line,” Clipperton said.
“He will take a stack of improvement (from it) and he’s in for a good prep.”