An expectant crowd packed into Randwick to see the next race in the Sydney Sprint Series, and they were treated to a sensational performance by one of Australia’s favourite racehorses Nature Strip in the Gr.2 Shorts.
All sprint trips seem to come alike to champion sprinter Nature Strip and the 1100 metres of The Shorts held no fear for him as he tracked old rival Eduardo into the final 100 metres and then just breezed past him, seemingly doing it very easily. Connections have no need to head to the Premiere Stakes, they can just keep him ticking over until The Everest, whilst the camps of the other contenders have been left scratching their heads as to what may be the best plans for their own charges if they are to take down the very well backed Ante Post favourite.
So, analysing the race in a bit more depth, was Nature Strip as impressive as it looked on the day? It is very difficult to crab anything about the performance, he sat in the catbird seat and as they came into the straight, he just moved into position to out-sprint Eduardo, Overpass, and Lost And Running.
There are all kinds of opinions about the result, did the others underperform, was Nature Strip handed an easy lead into the race and did Eduardo go off so quickly that the others were taken off their feet? The answer to all three of those questions is, possibly yes, but does that make Nature Strip any less likely to go on and win his second Everest?
I believe some of the runners didn’t show their true running and a lot of that is because Eduardo did set a strong pace, one which meant he faded close to home but for those hoping to go to The Everest they have to believe that the race will be run like that as Eduardo will definitely be in the field. That means their horses will need to show plenty of tactical speed even more so if they get a poor barrier draw and it may well be that a poor barrier draw for Nature Strip is their best chance of getting him beaten as he might not be able to run the race he wants to.
Lost And Running is going the same route as last year in his quest to finish higher placed in The Everest. It looks like the shrewd John O’Shea is once again bringing his gelding to a peak for Everest day and the extra trip there is sure to be a help as he stays 1300 metres well. His run here was encouraging as he was never better than at the line, but Nature Strip wasn’t stopping himself and Lost And Running will still need to improve again which is why he will run in The Premiere. He will have to justify his position as favourite in that market to be considered for the big one.
Eduardo tried to run the sting out of the field, but he is unlikely to be getting better at nine, so it is probably his best way of trying to beat the rest. It is a tactic that could work over the minimum trip, but he has never beaten Nature Strip over 1200 metres despite getting close in last year’s Everest and The Shorts was probably his best chance of another win this season. It will be interesting to see if they hold him up again this year or go even harder to try and build up an unassailable lead.
Mazu was probably the biggest disappointment in the race, but there are two ways to look at his run. At first, it would be easy to be underwhelmed by it, he didn’t appear to quicken up when needed and was a little lacklustre in his finishing effort. However, on the other side of the coin, this was a trip short of his best and only his second run against this level of sprinters and they may have been a little too streetwise for him at this stage of his career. Possibly found things happening a little too quickly and jockey Sam Clipperton was hardly tough on him in the closing stages. The Snowdens have also probably left a little to work with and if he goes in The Premiere, he will be the interesting one to watch out for with a better showing needed.
Masked Crusader was the strongest finisher in The Everest last year, he missed the break and was a long way back and had to weave his way through the field in the home straight. He could not be regarded as unlucky, but it certainly would have been closer had he broken on level terms. His run here was a little below par, over racing early and his keenness meant he didn’t finish his race as strongly as he can do, and has not placed in his five runs since The Everest looking out of sorts on more than one occasion. The big question with him is will his run here bring him on? If not, he will be very difficult to be within his other races this month.
Perhaps the one bright beacon in the race apart from Nature Strip was the run of Overpass who finished second. He was just in front turning for home but never really let Nature Strip get too far ahead and Rachel King rode a lovely race on him so it is easy to believe he will improve for this run. He has a great second and third strike rate so even if he does not go to The Premiere, his past record suggests he should perform well on his next two starts, so he is sure to be on the list of the remaining slot holders for The Everest. He lost a shoe during the race and was a little lame, but trainer Bjorn Baker has plenty of time to work on that and like Mazu he is a 4YO so is open to more improvement than many of the others.
Of the also-rans, the two Godolphin challengers Athelric and Andermatt did not indicate that they were ready to step up to the next level, and the probability is that they need more time or that they are just not good enough and that leaves the boys in a blue probably having to purchase a contender for The Everest unless they really feel that the three-year-old filly In Secret can make her mark. None of the others in the race are at this level and Classique Legend who ran so badly, it is difficult to believe that it is true, faces a spell on the sidelines.
Nature Strip apart, the result of The Shorts left more questions unanswered than answered and the Premiere will maybe make the picture a bit clearer. One point about this race which is very important to take away from it, and something that the opposition to Nature Strip needs to have a long hard think about, is that he is capable of running his race by leading or from on the pace or just off the pace, so he will not need to change the way he runs unless drawn wide; it is therefore up to those challengers to try and shape how the race will be run and how to put him at a disadvantage. Now we move on to The Premiere and we will see which of those challengers have come on most for this run.
Distance 1,200 metres,Surface Turf,Track Right-handed,Qualification Three year olds and older,Weight Weight for Age,Purse A$500,000 (2021),Bonuses Winner exemption from a ballot on the T J Smith Stakes