By Ray Hickson
He’s the most talked about sprinter in the country and, finally, Nature Strip has his place in The TAB Everest, much to the delight of part-owner Rod Lyons.
The four-year-old joins his Darren Weir stablemate Brave Smash in the $13 million feature after a deal was finalised by the Australian Turf Club and the gelding’s owners.
While The Everest is only in its second running, Lyons said since he watched the inaugural race in 2017 he’s been dreaming of having a horse good enough to be there.
“We’re tickled pink, it’s like a dream come true,’’ Lyons said.
“I always thought to myself what would it be like to have a runner in the race with all the excitement and the build up.
“The race has really captured the imagination of the whole racing industry and even people outside the industry talk about it. It’s hard to believe we’re sitting here with a runner.’’
Nature Strip made it eight wins from 11 starts when he broke the Moonee Valley 1000m course record in the McEwen Stakes last Saturday and is an $8 chance with TAB.
The Group 2 event was the biggest win of his career and again prompted Weir to declare him the fastest sprinter he’s trained.
— 7HorseRacing 🐎 (@7horseracing) September 9, 2018
He’ll get another chance to prove that on September 28 in his first Group 1 attempt, the Moir Stakes (1000m) at Moonee Valley.
Lyons understands The Everest is a couple more steps up the ladder and is confident he’ll measure up come October 13.
“When he first went down to Darren he rang me a couple of times and said he couldn’t believe the times he was running and how easy he does it,’’ Lyons said.
“He’s got to keep stepping up to the mark but when you talk to a lot of the form experts and ratings men they say you have to be something out of the ordinary to run his sectionals.
“I know we have one hurdle to overcome and that’s to get there and be in one piece but I think that’s just a formality.’’
Among the ownership group of about 12 people is what Lyons describes as a “bunch of scallywags from Colac’’ who hire a bus each time Nature Strip races to get them to the track.
Whether they choose bus or plane to get to Royal Randwick remains to be seen but Lyons said the entire ownership group, which includes current All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, is pumped for Everest day.
The Australian Turf Club raced Brave Smash with Weir to run third in the inaugural Everest and director Phil Morley said Nature Strip brings some X-Factor into this year’s running.
“We are delighted to bring another dimension to TAB Everest with a sprinter of the promise of Nature Strip,’’ Morley said.
“ATC had great success with the Darren Weir stable in last year’s TAB Everest and we again look forward to joining with him to promote our racing and the world’s richest race on turf.
“We believe Nature Strip is an excellent winning chance and will add to the quality and character of the race.’’
The issue of who will ride Nature Strip in The Everest is yet to be confirmed and Lyons said the owners are happy to leave that decision to Weir and the ATC.
Damian Lane has ridden the gelding to three of his last four wins with a suspension seeing Mark Zahra take over in the McEwen.
“The best jockeys in the world can get on a bucking bronco,’’ he said.
“They’re not the best in the world for no reason, they can ride over all distances and on all types of horses. I’m sure they’ll find a jockey that’s suitable.’’
Meanwhile, as part of the ATC’s slot partnership, a percentage of prizemoney earned from the TAB Everest will be donated to a worthy cause through the ATC Foundation.
ATC has also launched the On Top Of The World competition in which one person and three friends win a “money can’t buy’’ Owners’ Experience on TAB Everest Day.
The winner and guests receive two nights’ accommodation at The Star, a buffet breakfast at Sokyo, helicopter transfer to Royal Randwick on TAB Everest Day including a tour of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, a gourmet hospitality package and dinner at Black Bar & Grill at The Star that evening.
The competition winner will also receive a $50,000 cash bonus if the ATC’s runner wins TAB Everest.
The competition is a game of chance and can be entered via theraces.com.au/ontopoftheworld
It closes on September 30 with the winner drawn and announced on Tuesday October 2.