By Ray Hickson
Jockey Tim Clark knows he’ll control the destiny of more than just Nature Strip when the gates open for Saturday’s TAB Everest at Royal Randwick and he plans to use that to his advantage.
In a field regarded as both incredibly strong and even in class the result could come down to one tactical move, or stroke of luck, and the lion’s share of the $14 million purse is theirs.
So let the mind games begin.
Clark will be having his first ride on Nature Strip, a horse known for his quirks as much as his speed and talent, and he's revealed a plan to harness that talent from barrier 12 and it might surprise a few.
“Being drawn out there we can take our time and get him travelling comfortably,’’ Clark said.
“I can stay away from the other horses for the first 500m if I want to. There’s no need to rush across and get to the fence or outside the leader after a furlong, I can do it in my own time.
“We go in a straight line for the first three furlongs so he’s not going to be covering any ground.
“I think everyone is going to be expecting me to go forward and probably looking for me a bit.
“I haven’t had a lot to do with him but, looking at him, being by himself and out there it looks like he will relax better.
“Where if he was in amongst them, like he was first-up where he wanted to over race badly, that would be detrimental to his chance of running out the 1200m strongly.’’
There’s always been a question mark over the five-year-old’s ability to handle a weight-for-age 1200m test against the best of the best and it’s fair to say the jury is out on that following his scrambling win in the Group 1 Moir Stakes (1000m) last month.
Nature Strip’s other Group 1 win was a very close call over Pierata in the Galaxy (1100m) in March and that 1200m doubt means he is one of the outsiders in the TAB Everest at $23 with TAB but it sits well with Clark to be underestimated.
That’s strange for a horse that has started odds-on in 11 of his 18 starts and the longest price he’s jumped is $4.40 at his second race start.
“For once he is going into a race with not a lot of pressure or expectation on him apart from myself and the connections,’’ Clark said.
“Everyone else has sort of written him off so we can go there and enjoy it and hopefully he can surprise the doubters.’’
Of course Nature Strip is one of three horses in the TAB Everest from the Chris Waller stable, the others being Arcadia Queen and Yes Yes Yes.
Clark said he learned enough from his only gallop on the gelding on Monday to know what’s under the locker but it’s in his mind that he needs to get that first 600m right to be a fighting chance.
“He’s pretty straightforward in his trackwork, he’s not an overly aggressive horse in his work, he has a nice big stride on him and he covers the ground pretty well,’’ he said.
“I’d much rather be out there than in a low draw, it gives him time to get into a rhythm and I don’t have to bustle him.’’
— Chris Waller Racing (@cwallerracing) October 13, 2019
About 45 minutes after the TAB Everest, Clark’s front-running skills will be put to the test again on Bjorn Baker’s Group 1 winner Samadoubt in the Group 3 $500,000 Yulong Australia Craven Plate (2000m).
The Winx Stakes winner was cut down in the shadows by Verry Elleegant two weeks ago in the Hill Stakes over the same course and while she’s not there Samadoubt will have to fend off Happy Clapper for Clark to claim his second Craven Plate in three years.
Back in 2017 Clark was responsible for lowering the Clapper’s colours on Classic Uniform and is confident he can repeat the dose on Samadoubt.
“I think if the track was dry he would have won the other day,’’ he said.
“Not taking anything away from the winner, she did a good job on a day where what she did as far as her racing pattern it was hard to do, but I feel he is a better horse on top of the ground.’’
Samadoubt was $3.80 with TAB on Wednesday and though Clark is wary of the presence of Stampede as a potential source of pressure he’s very much on the bullish side.
“I’m pretty confident in my bloke, he’s in good shape for Saturday and he is going to take plenty of catching,’’ he said.