One of the most engaging things about sports is that reputations can be recovered. Doubters can be proved wrong about footballers, cricketers, boxers, and yes, racehorses. For Nature Strip, one of the world’s most highly regarded sprint horses, there have been periods of doubt down through the years. But whenever the critics speak loudest, Nature Strip always seems to find a way to silence them. It’s a characteristic that does not always fit with the best racehorses, but it can certainly be applied to the most interesting, those who give fans a sense that anything could happen.
Regardless of where he is now, Nature Strip has already enjoyed a fine career. Nine Group 1 wins and over $18 million AUD in prize money thus far combine to make the 7yo one of the best talents to come out of Australian racing in recent years. He’s been in brilliant form in recent month, even heading to England to take the spoils at Royal Ascot in the King’s Stand Stakes. But the upcoming goal is to win the world’s richest turf race, The Everest, for a second time.
The Everest has caught the imagination of racing fans
Nature Strip has plenty of experience with The Everest. The race was created in 2017 as a showcase for the world’s best sprinters, and Nature Strip has appeared in three of the five runnings. In 2019, he performed well (finishing 4th of 12) at long odds. In 2020, he disappointed fans, finishing 7th. But he returned last year to take the massive prize for the first time. And it seems connections want a repeat victory in 2022 for the lion’s share of the $15 million purse.
Chris Waller, who trains Nature Strip, will know that the conditions are right for the horse to land The Everest in October. While the talent was always apparent, the execution was sometimes lacking, as we sometimes saw Nature Strip lose out in the final 100m or so of sprints. Now he returns for the Australian spring campaign an older and wiser horse, and one with a glowing reputation thanks to the success at Royal Ascot. Moreover, the likelihood of seeing James McDonald in the saddle will further expectations of a victory. McDonald is regarded by many as the best jockey on the planet right now, and his relationship with Nature Strip is as good as it gets.
A tough test awaits Nature Strip
However, we should offer some sobriety to this analysis. The Everest is one of the toughest races around. It costs $600K for an entry slot, so owners have to put their money where their mouth is. The winner takes home over $6 million, but you need to finish in the top 5 (there’s always a field of 12 runners) to break even on your investment. As such, you must have strong convictions that your horse is one of the best sprinters around to make such a down payment. And that means, despite being the favorite, Nature Strip will have his work cut out for him.
But beyond prize money, there is reputation. And one of the reasons that we highlighted Nature Strip’s bid for The Everest is that a win this spring should cement his legacy as one of the best sprinters of modern times, and not just in Australia. Some had doubts about Nature Strip in the past, but if he becomes a dual winner of The Everest those doubters will look somewhat foolish.
The Everest 2022 takes place on Saturday 15th October at Randwick Racecourse.