By Ray Hickson
It’s clear trainer Chris Waller is leaving nothing to chance with ruling TAB Everest favourite Nature Strip as he closes in on a highly anticipated return to racing in just over two weeks.
Just as he did a couple of weeks earlier, Nature Strip was in complete control as he put over five lengths on his rivals, running 54.89, to win his 900m trial at Rosehill on Tuesday.
Waller will crank up Nature Strip’s build up with an exhibition gallop on his home track on San Domenico Stakes day, Saturday week, before tackling the Group 3 $160,000 Concorde Stakes (1000m) at Randwick on September 5.
And there’ll be no disrespecting the task ahead of the world’s highest rated sprinter as Waller conceded on Sky Thoroughbred Central he did in the autumn as he finished unplaced in the Group 1 Lightning Stakes, won by Gytrash who he will face again in the Concorde.
“Last prep in the Lightning I think we didn’t respect the 1000m distance,’’ Waller said.
“It was as simple as that. We just thought we’d jump, let him and roll and he should be too good. But it’s actually a very long way.
“If you try and take Nature Strip on you’re in trouble, you’ll set the race up for backmarkers and you won’t win yourself. He just needs to do his own thing and not worry about others and I think we need to concentrate on that first-up.”
James McDonald allowed Nature Strip to do just that in the trial, he rolled along and didn’t seem to overdo it as he’s been known to at times.
In an ominous sign for his TAB Everest rivals McDonald is of the opinion that Nature Strip is a more complete racehorse now and Waller echoed that sentiment saying there’s still improvement to come.
“I’ve been telling a few people that watching Nature Strip trial is a lot easier than watching Winx trial,’’ he said.
“She used to trial twice before she used to race and we’d have to put on a brave face because she’d be well down the track but not Nature Strip.
“I don’t put a lot into trial form at all but with him it’s easy to see he’s going as well as he’s ever gone. James is giving us great feedback as are the riders at home.
“We’re very happy with him, he’s come back in great shape and he certainly hasn’t gone backwards, if anything there’s a bit of improvement there.’’
Nature Strip is the $3 Everest favourite with TAB, whose slot the gelding represents in the $15m feature on October 17, and Waller has set out his program though leaves room for tweaking.
He resumes in the Concorde on September 5 then heads to the Group 2 Premiere Stakes (1200m) a month later before tackling Australia’s richest race third-up.
“It seems pretty straightforward but with horses you never get too far ahead of yourself so we’ve allowed plenty of time to get him fit and plenty of time between his first and second runs,’’ Waller said.
As usual for a Rosehill trial session there were a host of Waller potential spring stars strutting their stuff and the 10 time champion trainer was rapt with emerging filly Hungry Heart’s fourth placing behind Nature Strip.
He said the lightly raced Frankel filly will target the Group 1 Flight Stakes and is set to resume in the Furious Stakes (1200m) on September 5.
Nature Strip wins a trial at Rosehill on August 18
"I thought she was very good considering she was racing against the older seasoned horses,'' he said.
Stayer Finche will kick off his spring in the Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes (1600m) after running third in the opening heat over 1000m, SA Group 1 winner Toffee Tongue ran seventh in that heat and will likely tackle a benchmark race over 1400m first-up.
And we’ll likely see boom four-year-old Kinane have a low key kick off to his spring in a 1400mn Benchmark race this Saturday at Randwick after he ran seventh in Nature Strip’s heat.
Elsewhere at the trials Master Of Wine tuned up for his spring start off in Saturday’s Group 1 Winx Stakes (1400m) in a 900m heat on the steeple grass, he may have finished second last but jockey Tommy Berry couldn’t have been happier.
Unbeaten colt Peltzer gave connections some cause for concern prior to winning his trial but he eventually led all the way with another exciting youngster Doubtland closing off late into third.
And Winx’s three-year-old half-sister Covent Garden finished a close second behind stablemate Iconically in a 900m heat suggesting we should forget all about her inglorious debut in heavy ground earlier this year.