Japan Cup on the cards for Hitotsu as Waller plots UK raid

Hitotsu added the Group 1 Australian Derby to his already impressive CV. (Photo: Lisa Grimm)

After Hitotsu completed a rare Derby double at the weekend, connections are now considering the possibility of heading overseas for a tilt at the Japan Cup at the end of November.

Last Saturday, the three-year-old colt became the first horse since Mahogany in 1994 to complete the Melbourne and Sydney Derby double when winning the $2m ATC Australian Derby (2400m) on Day 1 of The Championships at Randwick.

The three-year-old son of Maurice (JPN) won the $2m Victoria Derby (2500m) at Flemington in October before being sent for a spell. Returning to Flemington first-up last month, he took out the $1m Australian Guineas (1600m) before heading to Sydney to clinch the Derby double.

Hitotsu will now go for a spell in readiness for a big spring campaign, with co-trainer Ciaron Maher confirming that while he is keen to keep all options open, an overseas trip isn’t out of the question.

“He is still maturing. He’s developed quite a bit from the spring and I think he’ll develop the same amount and more again,” Maher said.

“The plan is to have a nice break now while we still have a bit of nice weather and then he can get back into work and I thought a race like the Makybe Diva (Stakes) into a Turnbull (Stakes) into a Cox Plate, maybe a (Melbourne) Cup.

“In the spring he could be something really special.

“He needs to go and perform very well in those (spring targets) and then, yeah, providing he takes the next step and goes to open company and is successful, I would love to take him abroad.”

Hitotsu would join a line-up of star Australian gallopers jumping on a plane this year if all goes to plan.

They are headlined by sprint champion Nature Strip, who blitzed his rivals to win his third Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on Saturday.

Trainer Chris Waller and senior owner Rod Lyons confirmed Royal Ascot is calling before their star returns to defend his title in The Everest in the spring.

“Nature Strip has a cult following and whether they like him or hate him, most people really appreciate the horse for what he is,” Waller said.

“He’s a great sprinter and the way he races, out in front or on the speed, he puts them under a bit of pressure.

“The main aim is to have him back here for The Everest next spring but if we can shoot over and see our friends at Royal Ascot it would be pretty special.”

Lyons described Waller as a “genius” after Nature Strip scored his 20th career win and his eighth at Group 1 level.

“After Nature Strip was beaten last start (third in the Challenge Stakes) Chris rang and said don’t worry, he can win the TJ and he was right again,” senior owner Lyons said.

“I think Nature Strip has proven once and for all he is a champion and now we will take him to Royal Ascot.

“The plan is to go to England and then bring him back for The Everest in the spring.”

Fellow Waller-trained sprinter Home Affairs has been confirmed to be joining Nature Strip in England.

The three-year-old I Am Invincible colt beat Nature Strip home by a nostril in the $1m Black Caviar Lightning Stakes (1000m) down the Flemington straight in February.

“We want to keep them apart, so Home Affairs will run in the King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) and Nature Strip will go to the Platinum Jubilee Stakes (1200m),” Waller said.

“Everybody respects Australian racing and especially our sprinters and middle-distance horses. It would be great to take horses like him (Nature Strip) and Home Affairs over there and put that flag up pretty high.”

Win or lose, Melbourne Cup champion Verry Elleegant could also be shaping up for her last Australian run when she starts in a star-studded field in this Saturday’s $4m Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) on Day 2 of The Championships at Randwick.

Part-owner Ozzie Kheir, who also has shares in Hitotsu, said that Verry Elleegant had to show her best form in the Queen Elizabeth to warrant a trip to Paris and that anything less than her usual grand performance would put paid to the bold plan of tackling the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2400m), which is scheduled for the first Sunday of October.

“She has to stand up again for us to make a call on the Arc,” Kheir said.

“The reality is that if she doesn’t run to her best on Saturday then that (Arc) probably won’t happen and then we’d have to decide whether to go on with her.”

Verry Elleegant was second last start to Montefilia in the Ranvet Stakes (2000m) in an upset at Rosehill on Golden Slipper Day in March.

But Kheir said he was confident she will peak for her grand final in the Queen Elizabeth.

“I think she will be very hard to beat,” he said.

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