By Ray Hickson
She Will Reign’s jockey Ben Melham says the onus is firmly on boom Victorian gelding Nature Strip to prove himself when the pair clash at Warwick Farm on Saturday.
The $250,000 Inglis Sprint (1100m) is set to be the most talked about race of the weekend and Melham said the home track advantage is a big plus for the reigning Golden Slipper winner’s return.
Melham has seen plenty of Nature Strip back home in Melbourne and offered some thoughts on how he measures up.
“I’ve chased him home a couple of times,’’ he said.
“He got a little bit lost (last start) and it’s an interesting track for a Melbourne horse to have his first Sydney run so we’ll have that in our favour.
“She’s trained on the track and has done all the work there so he’ll want to be pretty good to beat her around there.’’
There were 12 nominations for the Inglis Sprint, though Brave Song is likely to run in the Eskimo Prince, and She Will Reign is clearly the highest rated with a 112 rating.
Nature Strip, with an 84 rating, has won four of his five starts with his wins coming at Mornington, Moonee Valley, Sandown and last start at Flemington.
He’s since had a clockwise gallop to familiarise himself with his ‘Sydney leg’.
“I saw the gallop on the tele and it looked like he was moving along at a good speed but he was galloping at Sandown which is a big open track and a lot different to Warwick Farm,’’ Melham said.
“He’s a very good horse, he looks quite progressive whereas she’s won two Group 1s so she’s already there and he’s got to come up to her mark. It’ll be an interesting race.’’
She Will Reign hasn’t raced since The Everest and Saturday’s race will be the first time Melham has partnered the star filly in a race since their famous Slipper win almost a year ago.
First-up in the spring she won the Group 1 Moir Stakes at weight-for-age beating subsequent Group 1 winner Viddora.
Melham made the trip to Sydney to ride her in a trial at Warwick Farm on January 15 where she chased home Super Too.
In the weeks since that trial She Will Reign had minor inflammation to a front fetlock that saw trainer Gary Portelli abort a planned exhibition gallop but he’s adamant he has the filly fit to win first-up.
Looking back at the trial, Melham said he’s seen enough to be confident she’ll be a force to be reckoned with this autumn.
“She had a nice roll around and I didn’t over extend her to the line,’’ he said.
“Super Too has obviously come out and trialled again impressively since.
“I couldn’t have asked her to trial any better, she’s furnished and filled out since last preparation and I’m looking forward to getting back on her.
“She pulled up very forward in the trial. She seems to jump and run and put herself handier fresh so she will be handy and hopefully too good.’’