Australian sprinter Nature Strip has wowed the world with a “scintillating” victory in the King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) at Royal Ascot on Day 1 of the famous English racing carnival.
The Chris Waller-trained seven-year-old went into the meeting as the world’s highest-rated sprinter, but with world-class gallopers like Golden Pal and Twilight Calls also in the race, what came next was a shock for many.
There was some drama in and behind the barriers, with Mondammej refusing to load, while Khaadem left jockey Jamie Spencer behind at the start.
To top it all off, the heavily backed favourite Golden Pal missed the start, ultimately ending his winning chances.
Nothing fazed Nature Strip, with James McDonald putting him on the speed before he kicked clear to record a dominant four-length victory on the world stage.
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“He’s just an absolute freak of a horse,” McDonald said post-race.
“I think he would have silenced a few critics with that performance, because it was scintillating.
“With the rider-less horse – I didn’t even know it was rider-less and I thought ‘how has one come with him?’ – he was going that good. Just incredible.”
McDonald, who is arguably the world’s best jockey, gave plenty of cheek in the post-race interview.
“Well, I seen the American horse – the big spruik horse – charge through, and at the two pole, I thought ‘are you gonna come?’ and he had no response and away we went.”
Waller has ticked off some races that top-class trainers can only dream of – a Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup, two Everests, four Cox Plates and plenty more wins at the highest level – but this rated in his top five wins.
A naturally emotional person, he said it was “pretty special” to be able to bring his horses to a race meeting like this and take on some of the best in the world.
“Top five. Any win is great, we work with amazing animals and they’re very good to us,” he said.
“To be able to bring a horse all this way is pretty special, to not only win, but win the way he did.
“It was a good display. He’s a very good horse – he’s been it for a long time – I guess he’s in the twilight of his career but he’s just learnt to be a racehorse now. He was a tricky horse early on and he’s got better with his years, he’s matured and it’s an honour to train a horse like him.”
Waller will also saddle up Home Affairs on Saturday in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (1200m) – a race Nature Strip also holds a nomination for – but the trainer has said that no decision will be made straight away.