By Ray Hickson
Premier jockey James McDonald is confident polarising sprinter Nature Strip will tick the 1200m box in good company and prove he's among the nation's best this spring.
McDonald will partner Nature Strip in his first barrier trial this preparation at Rosehill on Tuesday, he’ll also put star mare Verry Elleegant through her paces, and says the Chris Waller polish will start to show on the gelding.
While Nature Strip has a 1200m win against his name it was in winter company and McDonald points to a luckless fourth in the Doomben 10,000 as a sign the trip won’t be an issue.
“He should have won that race, he raced wide and it was a big performance,’’ McDonald dsaid.
“Chris has had the whole year to work him out and I think this is his time to step up a bit more.
“I think he will prove himself this prep, especially under the care of Chris. I think he will get the best out of him.’’
Nature Strip has won two races for Waller, the Group 2 Rubiton Stakes and Group 1 The Galaxy, in four starts since joining Sydney’s champion trainer.
The five-year-old is a $26 chance in TAB’s market for the $14m TAB Everest (1200m) in October but with eight slots already filled he may have to win the Schillaci to force his way into the field.
McDonald didn't buy into whether or not he's an Everest contender but said if he doesn’t earn a second chance at the race, after being selected by the Australian Turf Club last year before being replaced when he failed in the Moir Stakes, there are plenty of rich sprint races around for Nature Strip if he can get everything right.
“I’ve worked him at Rosehill and his work has been good, he has to put it all into his raceday performance but I think he can,’’ he said.
“Hopefully his racing manners have improved, that will be first and foremost. If he can sort the first half of his race out he’s going to be in with a winning chance in most races.’’
Nature Strip has accepted for both a 1000m trial on the Rosehill course proper and a 900m heat with Waller to decide the appropriate heat to kick off his campaign.
McDonald partners Australian Oaks winner Verry Elleegant in her second trial this preparation over 1000m on Tuesday and he said the signs are already positive for the mare with so much expected of her.
Like Nature Strip, Verry Elleegant is in her second preparation with Waller and McDonald has her pegged as a horse that will transition to the top grade in open company as a four-year-old.
“She’s only taken on the fillies, obviously that’s a question mark but I think she is one out of the box that can do it,’’ he said.
“She’s an enthusiastic sort of horse, she will give you 100 per cent every time she goes out there and wants to get the job done.
“I’d like to see her nice and relaxed in the trial, and that she has come back in good order. All indications so far are that she has.’’
Verry Elleegant wins the Australian Oaks in April
McDonald notes that Verry Elleegant, who will resume in the Group 1 Winx Stakes (1400m) at Royal Randwick on August 24, hasn’t furnished significantly but said she’s looking fantastic and is probably always going to have a light frame.
Tuesday’s trials will feature a star studded cast including Avilius, also set to return in the Winx, another of Godolphin’s possible Everest runners Osborne Bulls, plus Unforgotten, Yes Yes Yes, Shraaoh, Deprive plus a couple of interesting Godolphin imports Wren’s Day and Beau Ideal.
The trials will be broadcast on Sky Thoroughbred Central and can be viewed via www.racingnsw.com.au for free.