By Ray Hickson
TAB Everest champion Nature Strip had nothing to prove as he kicked off 2022 with a slightly toned down version of his trademark rolling style as he comfortably won a barrier trial at Rosehill on Monday.
As he eyes a record-equalling third Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes on Day 1 of The Star Championships, Nature Strip was allowed to do his own thing by jockey James McDonald in the 900m gallop.
After a slightly slow getaway, fairly standard these days, the seven-year-old mustered pace to roll up three wide outside early leaders Forbidden Love and Riodini before taking control midrace.
McDonald kept the ear-muff decked out Nature Strip under a hold as he worked down the home straight and he did everything you’d want to see in the middle of January but still posted a very handy 34.02 for his last 600m.
You’d imagine trainer Chris Waller will trial him again and follow a similar path towards the TJ which is run on April 2 and where a win would see him match Chautauqua’s three-peat of 2015-17.
Last year’s Surround Stakes winner Forbidden Love had a mixed 2021 with a placing in The Invitation her best result since her Group 1 win but based on her showing behind Nature Strip she appears to have come back well.
Tommy Berry parked the mare right behind the superstar sprinter and pulled just a little ground off him late.
There was a gap to the rest headed by Standout, who made a short dash early in the straight, while Riodini and Kolding had quiet mornings.
The big boy's back!#TABEverest champ Nature Strip takes out the opening 900m trial at Rosehill on Monday in 55.50 over G1 winner Forbidden Love with Standout in third. @tabcomau @7horseracing @cwallerracing pic.twitter.com/RMmnHpPNKm
— Racing NSW (@racing_nsw) January 16, 2022
Group 3 winning filly Mallory was a bit too fast for a crack bunch of three-year-olds in the second course proper heat over 900m, stopping the clock at 55.92 (0.42 slower than Nature Strip).
While the Gerald Ryan and Sterling Alexiou-trained galloper cruised along in front and held a clear margin at the finish over Ranch Hand and Zethus, most would have been looking at the Godolphin blue colours coming down the outside late.
That was of course Anamoe. It’s fair to say the big names in this trial didn’t show their hand.
Anamoe made a run from last on the turn and while he did want to hang in a little under Rachel King he found the line nicely.
It’ll be interesting to see if he lines up in the Group 2 Expressway Stakes (1200m) on January 29.
Chris Waller’s boom fillies Espiona, who is the ruling $2 favourite for next month's Group 1 Surround Stakes, and Fangirl weren’t asked for any serious work as they finished in the second half of the field in what was likely just a pipe-opener.
Among the four two-year-old heats a nice filly from the defending Golden Slipper winning stable of Richard and Michael Freedman called Tragara was unearthed.
The Written Tycoon filly trialled back in October but re-emerged here in a 902m heat, Tommy Berry settled her near the tail and she rounded them up, with a small push about 100m out, with a degree of ease.
From a time perspective her 54.60 was the slowest of the four heats but it was as much the style as the ability to run down a leader in Shenthara who’d had it quite soft in front that impressed.
Godolphin fillies Troach and Ojai, the latter winner of the Kirkham Plate and third in the Golden Gift, ran one-two in the following fillies trial running almost identical time of 54.59. Drisana, runner-up to Coolangatta in the Gimcrack Stakes, was right with them in third.
While Pyrois posted his second trial win (in 53.50) in the first of the colts and geldings heats all eyes were on $1.4 million colt Great Barrier Reef and while he ran sixth he’d lose no admirers beaten two lengths largely unextended and without a lot of room.
He’s unraced and is already an $11 chance with TAB in next month’s $2m Inglis Millennium and $13 in the $5m Longines Golden Slipper.
Breeders’ Plate runner-up Zambezi River finished fourth in his heat, his second trial this time around, behind stablemate Robusto who’d made his debut in the Maribyrnong Trial in early October.
It’d be a surprise if California Surreal doesn’t break through this time in on the evidence of her dominant 3-1/2 length win in a 902m trial where she sat back and sailed past her rivals.
She finished ahead of Fangirl in a Gosford maiden in September and was placed on the Kensington track before a spell.