By Ray Hickson
It’ll be something of a soft new season launch for premier jockey James McDonald at Randwick on Saturday but he's excited for what lies ahead, particularly when it comes to star sprinter Nature Strip.
The ruling TAB Everest favourite could kick off his campaign as soon as Tuesday in a barrier trial at Rosehill ahead of an expected return in the Group 3 Concorde Stakes (1000m) on September 5.
McDonald, fresh from a month off and a couple of weeks fishing in Port Douglas, said he can’t wait to get back on board the rising six-year-old after spotting him at the track earlier in the week.
“He’s a very exciting galloper, you never die wondering with him,’’ McDonald said.
“He can throw up anything. But he’s not the only one. Verry Elleegant is floating around and there’s Funstar, and I can’t wait for the new lot of babies to step out.”
Nature Strip is one of a horde of Chris Waller stable stars who could step out on Tuesday including Funstar, Verry Elleegant, Shared Ambition, Toffee Tongue, Hungry Heart and Kinane.
A polarising figure for much of his career to date, Nature Strip hasn’t raced since his dominant TJ Smith Stakes win on Day 1 of The Championships and Waller has already said he’ll be keeping it simple as far as targeting the $15m TAB Everest on October 17.
“Chris is going to keep the same formula that works every year so we don’t have to worry about that,’’ McDonald said.
“It’s about getting out there and keeping it simple. He had a bit of a blemish there at the start of the (autumn) preparation but we all thought he was flying.
“From then on Chris got a good handle on him and got the results he wanted. He’s a deceiving sort of animal, he’s a gentle giant and come race day he perks up.
“He looks great, I saw him on Tuesday morning and he looks fantastic. We’re all looking forward to seeing him step out at the trials and letting the beast stride out a bit.’’
Nature Strip was the first horse locked in by a slot holder, in his case TAB, for the fourth running of the TAB Everest.
McDonald concedes the 2020-21 season, at least the spring portion, will probably take on a shape unlike any other for him, and a lot of Sydney based riders, due to the ever changing nature of restrictions due to COVID-19.
But, that aside, he’s aiming to top what he achieved in the season just ended, where he rode 103.5 winners in Sydney and six Group 1s (five in Australia, one in NZ) and claimed his fourth premiership.
“It’s been a fantastic year, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been really good fun the whole year,’’ he said.
“This season is going to be a bit different, it doesn’t look like we’re going to get to Melbourne, but we’ll keep chipping away and try to do it again.
“I’ve enjoyed riding winners consistently, maintaining that level through the season. Guesty (manager Mark Guest) said I rode winners for a wide bunch of trainers which is really cool.
“It’s a long season, as everyone knows, you might go well for a month and not so good the next month. It’s about riding through the highs and lows and that’s where it becomes a mental battle.”
James McDonald rides Word For Word to victory at Rosehill in June
Among McDonald’s rides at Randwick are a pair of Chris Waller-trained mares he’s tasted success on during the winter in Word For Word and Savigne.
Word For Word is engaged in the Happy Clapper Special Achievement Handicap (1600m), where she’s $3 TAB favourite, on the back of a last start fourth behind Edison three weeks ago.
Savigne, who he rode to victory at Canterbury in June, is a $12 chance in the ATC Thank You Trainers Handicap (1800m) after a forgivable effort beating two home at Kensington two weeks ago.
His third mount is the Bjorn Baker-trained Kiss The Bride, $2.10 favourite in the NSWROA Trophy (1800m), who ran second in the same race as Savigne back on July 18.
“It’s about getting back into the swing of things and Saturday is a nice start,’’ he said.
“There’s no real secret to Word For Word, she’s been well placed and is very consistent. She is what she is, I think she tries and she does it to the best of her ability.
“These are off season sort of horses and in at the right time and a horse like Savigne, she’s going well, will get her turn.”