By Brad Gray
Brad Gray profiles all 12 TAB Everest contenders ahead of the $15m sprint feature on Saturday at Royal Randwick.
1.NATURE STRIP (10)
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: James McDonald
Slot: Chris Waller Racing
Third time lucky. A logical starting point is to assess why the sprinter, rated the best in the world, hasn’t won a TAB Everest already. In 2019, he worked across from a wide draw setting a furious tempo, setting up a track record time for Yes Yes Yes. His first 1000m was a sizzling 55.88s. It was amazing he finished only 1.3L away. In 2020 he went into the race after bombing in the Premiere Stakes, with mucus subsequently detected. He also lost the rider in a key barrier trial in that preparation. It was a disaster. Eduardo set a furious tempo up front there too, setting it up for the closers. Nature Strip’s last start defeat was a carbon copy of the Challenge Stakes over the autumn before he reappeared a month later to blow his rivals away out to 1200m in the TJ Smith Stakes. Sets up to repeat that performance. A soft track is perfect too. Expect the country’s reigning champion sprinter to start favourite.
Likely map: Follows Eduardo across to sit outside of the leader. Favourable draw to get him into an early rhythm.
Long story short: If he runs up to his best, he’s the likely winner.
2. CLASSIQUE LEGEND (5)
Trainer: Les Bridge
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
Slot: Bon Ho
The hardest horse in the field to confidently assess. If all of these contenders ran up to their absolute best, he’s the only one capable of matching Nature Strip. But, and it’s a big but, it’s a giant leap of faith to trust that he can produce a performance rivalling his TAB Everest win last year given he has only raced once since then, where he bled in the Hong Kong Sprint. Les Bridge has played a very patient game in preparing the grey for his title defence, with three trials and resisting the temptation to give the six-year-old a lead up run. Classique Legend was brilliant when winning The Shorts first up last preparation, which kicked off a perfect Everest preparation, making Eduardo and Bivouac look second rate. Will there be enough petrol in the tank at the 200m in a high pressure 1200m race? Maybe his class will carry him, however, from a pure punting perspective there’s currently not a big enough edge in the market to justify giving him the chance to prove it.
Likely map: Just worse than midfield. A perfect barrier for him.
Long story short: The market makes this decision an easy one.
3. EDUARDO (7)
Trainer: Joe Pride
Jockey: Nash Rawiller
Slot: The Star and Arrowfield
It’s become a tiresome take on Eduardo, and one Joe Pride must grit his teeth at, but it still rings true. Can he sustain his speed over 1200m against the best sprinters in the country? If the TAB Everest was over 1100m, there’s a case to be made that Eduardo jumps favourite. He broke the Randwick 1000m track record winning the Challenge Stakes last preparation before belting his rivals in the Galaxy. His fighting qualities were again on display first up in The Shorts where he dug in to beat Nature Strip by half a length. Nash Rawiller has ridden Eduardo eight times for six wins and a second. He went way too fast in last year’s TAB Everest so forgive him that but where does the TJ Smith six months ago leave us? The eight-year-old still ran exceptionally well, clearing out with Nature Strip and Masked Crusader, but was beaten on his merits.
Likely map: Spears to the front to take up the running.
Long story short: Still needs to prove himself over 1200m at this level.
4. GYTRASH (1)
Trainer: Gordon Richards
Jockey: Jason Collett
From giant killer to sleeping giant. If any of the favourites slip up, Gytrash will be sniffing around at the finish to take advantage. Twelve months ago he jumped a $6 pop after taking the scalp of Nature Strip in the Concorde Stakes. He couldn’t match the acceleration of Classique Legend between the 400-200 but kept steadily closing to pinch third. Proved he has taken no ill effects from a below par autumn preparation with a third in The Shorts, and a luckless one at that. Being tightened at the 50m mark denied him the opportunity to make it four from four in his head-to-head clashes with Nature Strip. He looked anything but a top line sprinter in a Warwick Farm trial since then but in his defence, it was over 800m. When he won his lead up trial last year he sat outside of the leader over 1030m. Jason Collett is at his best when in 'ambush mode' and the inside draw sets up for that perfectly.
Likely map: Pokes up from barrier 1 to be third pair back on the fence.
Long story short: Expected to run up to last year’s level but will that be enough?
5. TREKKING (4)
Trainer: James Cummings
Jockey: Josh Parr
This hard nut seven-year-old has seen it all before. He ran fourth in the TAB Everest last year, having settled closer in the run. The son of Street Cry has raced seven times since then without a win but he hasn’t finished worse than fifth. That just about sums up Trekking. There’s a case to be made that he isn’t going any worse heading into his third crack at this rich Randwick feature, having run third behind Yes Yes Yes at his first try, but he certainly isn’t going any better twelve months on. Held his own over an unsuitable 1000m trip in the Concorde Stakes behind Nature Strip before counting himself an unlucky loser in the Moir Stakes, caught behind a wall of horses for much of the straight. Will head down the Randwick tunnel on Saturday for his third Everest tilt and his record tells us that more of his 11 rivals will finish behind him than in front of him. Would be surprised if he won, but has strong place claims.
Likely map: Settled fifth last year from barrier 4. Suspect he'll be a pair further back this year.
Long story short: We know his level now.
6. MASKED CRUSADER (9)
Trainer: Team Hawkes
Jockey: Tommy Berry
Slot: Max Whitby and Neil Werrett
On a soft track over the Randwick 1200m fourth up last preparation, Masked Crusader produced a career best when running a slashing second behind Nature Strip over 1200m. It’s an identical set up six months on, just with a different grand final. The Hawkes yard have had the luxury of preparing the lightly-raced five-year-old to peak on Saturday and there are few better stables at it. He blasted past Standout and Embracer to win the Premiere Stakes last start to score a visually impressive win but there wasn’t a great deal of substance to the victory on the clock, in the context of what he has done in the past and more significantly, what he’ll need to do against a better class of galloper. His Achilles heel continues to be his tendency to miss the start. The prospect of a slightly rain-affected track only enhances his claims.
Likely map: Expected to settle out the back with The Inferno.
Long story short: Needs to improve but has shown he can.
7. WILD RULER (11)
Trainer: Peter and Paul Snowden
Jockey: Tim Clark
Slot: Yulong Investments
Has been exceptionally well placed throughout his career by Peter and Paul Snowden, a stable renowned for exactly that. The time has come, however, for the four-year-old to prove his worth at the very top level. Chased in vain behind Nature Strip in the Concorde Stakes first up, albeit with the winner able to control the tempo of the race throughout rendering him unbeatable, before an inch perfect ride saw him scramble home in the G1 Moir Stakes at Moonee Valley. That was off a starting price of $10. That was the second time this campaign he beat home Trekking, who has run third and fourth in two TAB Everests in the past. That is too straight of a line to draw, however, with both runs being over 1000m. That’s a query in itself, jumping straight out to 1200m now. Is another that needs a dry track. Does not map well.
Likely map: Looks the worst off of the 12 runners. Could be trapped wide.
Long story short: The barrier, wet track and rise in class makes an unsurmountable task.
8. THE INFERNO (12)
Trainer: Cliff Brown
Jockey: Regan Bayliss
Slot: James Harron Bloodstock
Not many horses boast a record of nine wins from 12 starts. Former Singapore trained star The Inferno put up his hand as a TAB Everest contender by rounding up his rivals in the G2 McEwan Stakes, where the five-year-old sprinted quickly to round his rivals. That was on a soft track. He then confirmed his spot in the field with a narrow second in the G1 Moir Stakes, sustaining a run having been forced to loop the field. Hs reacted well to being ridden quietly at his past two starts so doubt that changes now, ahead of his biggest challenge yet. And by some margin. The Inferno has won out to the mile, winning the Singapore Guineas as a raging $1.33 favourite, so his stamina won’t come into question but will his class against this level of opposition?
Likely map: Has been ridden conservatively recently. Expect that to be the case again here.
Long story short: Has earned his shot but hasn’t raced in this elite company yet.
9. EMBRACER (3)
Trainer: Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott
Jockey: Jean Van Overmeire
Slot: James Kennedy
The last runner into the field answering an SOS from slot holder James Kennedy. The six-year-old is is very fit, versatile and in the best form of his career, despite his last win being in the Hawkesbury Gold Rush back in May. He also handles all surfaces. Was beaten half a length by subsequent Epsom winner Private Eye first up, before being denied by Chat by a similar margin. Last start, in the Premiere Stakes, he finished alongside Lost and Running when third behind Masked Crusader. Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott, whose only previous runner in the TAB Everest was English in the first running of the feature, will need to dive into their bag of tricks to pull out a peak performance. The market is a fair reflexction of his chances in this company, however.
Likely map: Let's the speed cross him to settle midfield at worst.
Long story short: Is one of the rank outsiders in the field, and rightly so.
10. LOST AND RUNNING (2)
Trainer: John O’Shea
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
There wasn’t going to be anywhere to hide for Lost And Running this preparation. Remember, only six months ago he was winning benchmark races. It’s been a tough initiation for the gelding finishing last in The Shorts, where he raced wide on the worst part of the track, overraced and pulled up lame. Forgive and forget that. He then covered ground in the Premiere Stakes, won by Masked Crusader, boxing on to run fourth. It was a pass mark. Do concede that he hasn’t had much go his way in two runs back and profiles to run the best race of his preparation but that coincides with this being his stiffest ever test. It’s impossible to forecast the necessary improvement the five-year-old would need to make to be in the finish of a race that has for the past two year’s been rated amongst the strongest in the world.
Likely map: Finds himself in a perfect trailling position behind the leaders.
Long story short: Has come up short so far, albeit with excuses
11. LIBERTINI (8)
Trainer: Anthony Cummings
Jockey: Sam Clipperton
The Goldilocks of the field. She needs everything just right. However, she has proven in the past that if all of the pieces fall into place, she can match it with the best sprinters in the country. Case in point, last year’s Premiere Stakes, which saw her force her way into the TAB Everest. She was backed from $9 into $6 second favourite but lacked zip second up. That saw a change of approach this year with Anthony Cummings preparing he for a first up, given her fresh record. She has broken 1.08s twice over the Randwick 1200m too. Now for the knocks. The five-year-old needs a dry track. The forecast this week, on top of the rain that has already arrived, looks problematic. She was entitled to do more in her final trial behind Classique Legend but was subsequently found to be displaying lameness. Any minor setback isn’t ideal but it at least offers an excuse as to why she trialled in such a manner.
Likely map: Allowed to find her feet worse than midfield.
Long story short: Needs a lot to fall into place, but could surprise at odds.
12. HOME AFFAIRS (6)
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Glen Boss
The band is back together. Chris Waller, Coolmore and Glen Boss. Yes Yes Yes became the first three-year-old to win the TAB Everest in 2019, at just his eighth start. What faces Home Affairs is an even tougher assignment. Yes Yes Yes was beaten twice by Bivouac in the Run To The Rose and then the Golden Rose, with Exceedance in third. A trio of top class three-year-olds. There doesn’t look to be the same depth among the emerging young sprinters this season and Home Affairs has to do it at his sixth career start coming via the Heritage Stakes where he got away with very slow early sections before slipping clear of Paulele, the subsequent Roman Consul winner. He has immeasurable upside, and love the inclusion of an untapped three-year-old, but he has been set a monumental task.
Likely map: Fast horse. Matches it with Eduardo early before handing up.
Long story short: May prove to have the same talent as Yes Yes Yes but hasn’t had the same grounding.
1. NATURE STRIP
2. CLASSIQUE LEGEND