When Nature Strip is in this mood, there isn’t a sprinter in the world that can match him.
Nature Strip was at his arrogant, explosive best in the Group 1 $2.5 million TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) at Royal Randwick – and was compelling to watch.
It is the enigma that is Nature Strip that makes him so exciting.
He has often been maligned, even ridiculed – but then he reminds everyone of his extraordinary sprinting talent.
This was Nature Strip at his commanding best – and he didn’t have to be the “control freak” by leading to win.
Eduardo, his main rival, came out of the barriers brilliantly and crossed Nature Strip within the first 100m.
There have been times in Nature Strip’s career when he would “raise the white flag” if he couldn’t dictate in front but not this time.
He’s a more complete racehorse now as he demonstrated by racing away to win his second successive TJ Smith Stales.
Sydney’s premier trainer Chris Waller took particular satisfaction as Nature Strip left his critics eating their words again.
“He’s a super horse and just showed another dimension today,’’ Waller said.
“We knew he couldn’t go head to head (with Eduardo) and expect to win the race.
“I think that brought us undone in the spring. We were getting taken on and coming off second best and left a sitting duck.
“Anything that wants to take him on gets beat as well. We’re beyond that, we wanted to be a bit more mature this preparation.
“His run in the Lightning Stakes, he settled off the speed and blew them away. Last start it was a pretty good effort, he had a wide draw and had to do quite a bit of work.
“But today it just worked out perfectly and full credit to James (McDonald) and my team.”
James McDonald celebrates after Nature Strip took out another TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick. Picture: Getty Images
Nature Strip ($3.10 favourite) sprinted clear over the rise and was never going to be run down, scoring by two lengths.
If there was an unlucky runner it was definitely Masked Crusader ($7) who was held up for a run at the top of the straight but he finished powerfully to claim second, with Eduardo ($3.60) nearly a length away third.
McDonald rode his second Group 1 winner for the day – he had won the Inglis sires on Anamoe – and felt the time was right to return serve at some of Nature Strip’s critics.
“You get sick of all the talk during the week about how to upset him and this kind of garbage,’’ McDonald said.,
“They’re not going to upset him anymore. He is pretty push button. I can safely say WBS (World’s Best Sprinter) for him.
“When he is winning, he is everyone’s favourite but when he is losing, they quickly bag him but he is not getting beaten far. He is a bloody good horse.”
McDonald said he was determined to ride his own race on Nature Strip and not get involved in a speed duel with Eduardo.
“We can only worry about one horse and that’s why throughout the week, all this talk of ‘we’re going to upset him’ – it is just a load of rubbish,’’ McDonald said.
“Just ride your horse and we’ll worry about ours.’’
James McDonald pats Nature Strip after returning to scale. Picture: Getty Images
It’s easy to forget Nature Strip is the reigning Horse of the Year and the TJ Smith was his sixth win at Group 1 level, his 16th career success from 30 starts and took his career earnings to $7.92 million.
“He’s pretty good all the time,’’ Waller said.
“Even when he does get beaten, there’s been reasons for him getting beat. As I said, he gets taken on.
“No horse can sustain that type of pressure when you’re talking about the best sprinters in the world.’’
Waller, who led in his 121st career Group 1 winner with Nature Strip, has trained 11 Group 1 winners with his stable earnings topping $30 million for the season.
The Hall of Fame trainer wasn’t about to lock in plans for Nature Strip immediately after the race but said long term the $15 million The Everest at Royal Randwick next October the main goal.
“He’ll be at The Everest for sure,’’ Waller said.
“So it’ll all be revolved around that.
“The Everest is actually quite deep into the spring so there’s the chance to take him to Queensland if we need to.”