By Ray Hickson
When it comes to Nature Strip premier jockey James McDonald is somewhat bullish but he says there remains an air of mystery around Kiwi boom horse Te Akau Shark.
McDonald rides arguably the two most interesting runners at Randwick on Saturday, both are expected to take beating in their respective races but both also have something to prove.
Nature Strip is one sixth of the Group 3 $160,000 Forum Concorde Stakes (1000m) and a short-priced favourite with TAB at $2.25 to knock over a field including three TAB Everest runners.
The confidence McDonald exudes in the polarising gelding comes from the work trainer Chris Waller has done to transform him from a hot-headed speedster into a more complete sprinter.
“It’s all worked so far, it just has to happen under race conditions,’’ McDonald said.
“If he can do it under race conditions he will be a force to be reckoned with. He’s going to have to be properly good because he’s got 60kg against those horses.
“But if he can get a nice cosy run you’ll see him relax and I reckon you’ll see a pretty good horse.’’
McDonald was due to take Nature Strip for a spin between races at Rosehill last Saturday but that was switched to an early morning gallop due to the wet conditions.
In both his trials this preparation, the latest a closing second to Redzel, the five-year-old has shown a willingness to settle behind the speed and that’s being reflected in his work.
“I can’t really fault him at the moment,’’ McDonald said.
“He worked really quietly on Saturday and just cruised over five furlongs. He seems to be building throughout his work and just doing it nicely.’’
Whether a Concorde win is enough to convince one of the remaining slot holders, primarily James Harron, to put him in the Everest picture is unlikely given nobody doubts his prowess at 1000m.
But it wouldn't harm his chances.
McDonald has been getting acquainted with Te Akau Shark in the past week ahead of the Group 2 $200,000 Harvey Norman Tramway Stakes (1400m), the classy Kiwi’s only appearance prior to next month’s Epsom Handicap.
The five-year-old, part-owned by Cronulla Sharks star Paul Gallen, has raced seven times for five wins, all in the anti-clockwise direction, and produced an enormous effort first-up to run second in the Foxbridge Plate (1200m) at Te Rapa on August 17.
“He looks a beautiful horse, he’s very quiet and he likes a bit of give in the ground,’’ McDonald said.
“Hopefully the boom is what as they say it is, but you like to see them do it first. We’re going to learn a lot about him on Saturday.’’
Te Akau Shark stormed home for second to Endless Drama at Te Rapa on Saturday, and has retained favouritism for the Epsom Hcp @royalrandwick on Oct 5. Check out the latest @tabcomau market here 👉https://t.co/Rjp0yj6mT7 . pic.twitter.com/lj7d599qQi
— Sky Racing (@SkyRacingAU) August 19, 2019
Te Akau Shark’s trainer Jamie Richards has said a top three finish will be required to give him confidence the Group 1 Epsom (1600m) is within his reach.
He’s the ruling $5 favourite for the feature spring mile and $2.80 to take out the Tramway, a double that Hauraki (2016) and Happy Clapper (2017) were able to complete.
From a form perspective, McDonald was encouraged by star Kiwi mare Melody Belle’s Group 1 win last weekend as Te Akau Shark safely held her first-up.
“Until he comes here and mixes it with the best of them it’s hard to say how he measures up,’’ he said.
“I’m sure he won’t let us down but I’d like to see him do it.’’
McDonald also rides Te Akau Shark's stablemate Probabeel when she takes on Libertini in the Group 2 $200,000 Darley Furious Stakes (1200m) on Saturday.