By Ray Hickson
Champion trainer Chris Waller seemingly blamed himself for gun sprinter Nature Strip’s shock first-up defeat and says he won’t make the same mistake heading into Saturday’s Challenge Stakes (1000m) at Royal Randwick.
Nature Strip tends to polarise opinion and public opinion was divided after his shock unplaced effort as an odds-on favourite in the Lightning Stakes at Flemington last month, the first time he’d been beaten down the straight.
Was he in the wrong section of the straight? Did he just not give 100 per cent?
Waller’s view is that Nature Strip wasn’t screwed down enough and perhaps there was an element of taking the race for granted.
“You could argue we took the race a bit cheaply, 1000m is a long way,’’ Waller said.
“Of all people I had a good chat to Hugh Bowman about the race and he said 'Chris a horse can't run longer than 400m flat out'.
“It was no-one's fault, the horse was just too fresh.’’
The Group 2 $500,000 Hyland Race Colours Challenge Stakes (1000m) is shaping to be a small field and a tactical contest plus there’s a forecast suggesting a rain affected track is possible.
Dual Everest winner and Lightning runner-up Redzel, who won the Challenge in 2018 and was narrowly defeated in both 2017 and 2019 editions, will renew rivalries with Nature Strip plus the likes of Ball Of Muscle and Jungle Edge are among the nominations to keep them honest early.
The race also sees the return of reigning TJ Smith Stakes champion Santa Ana Lane as he prepares to defend that crown on Day 1 of The Star Championships.
Waller said Nature Strip won’t be bullied into anything in the Challenge and is keen for the gelding to run his own race.
“We'll be trying to switch him off and get him to relax,” he said.
“Whether it is three lengths in front or outside the leader we will be riding our own race and not worrying about anyone else.
“He galloped at Flemington last week and he's back in Sydney, he'll have a gallop on Tuesday and be ready to go in the Challenge.”
TAB installed Nature Strip the $2 all-in Challenge Stakes favourite on Monday ahead of Redzel ($4) and Santa Ana Lane ($5).
Nature Strip has a shocker. pic.twitter.com/CywArzTVJG
— 7HorseRacing 🐎 (@7horseracing) February 15, 2020
Waller is likely to have just the one runner in the Group 1 $500,000 Heineken 3 Canterbury Stakes (1300m) in the shape of The Gong winner Mister Sea Wolf, he’ll have three in the Group 1 $1m Mostyn Copper Randwick Guineas (1600m) via Reloaded, Kubrick and likely Pancho.
A dry track would be Waller’s preference for his Guineas hopefuls.
Reloaded, who Waller regards as the forgotten three-year-old of the autumn, finished a game second in the Hobartville Stakes (1400m) on a soft 7 at Rosehill but Kubrick didn’t seem as happy in running eighth.
“Reloaded has come through his run in the Hobartville very well, he worked exceptionally well (Saturday) morning,’’ Waller said.
“He's ready to fire over a mile and a better track would suit him because he has a lovely clean action.
“Kubrick didn't handle the track at all the other day. We went back to look at his (debut) run on a soft track which he won and the comments post-race said he was only just handling it.’’
Reloaded is $11 in TAB's all-in Randwick Guineas market with Kubrick at $15 behind the Anthony Freedman-trained Super Seth ($3.50).