Nature Strip has been a source of frustration for punters throughout his race career but now is not the time to “jump off the bandwagon”.
This is the advice of one of the nation’s leading form experts, Gary Crispe, who believes if Nature Strip produces his best, he is simply too good for his rivals in the $15 million The TAB Everest (1200m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Crispe, from Racing And Sports, pointed out that Nature Strip boasts a peak Timeform rating of 129, easily the highest of any of 12 elite sprinters contesting The Everest.
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“Nature Strip produced his highest rating winning the Group 1 TJ Smith Stakes earlier this year,’’ Crispe said.
“His two runs back have been well below that mark, though he had clear excuses when failing in the Premiere.
“Most horses would be written off after such performances, but then that’s when Nature Strip tends to do his best work. Of his four Group 1 victories, two have come off flops, certainly not your conventional lead-up performances.
“Nature Strip can be seen as flaky or unreliable but at three of his last six starts he has run to Timeform ratings between 128-129. He is certainly beatable, but when he’s hot, he’s very hot.’’
Crispe said Nature Strip’s best is “nothing short of elite” and if he is anywhere near that mark in The Everest then the Chris Waller-trained sprinter will take plenty of beating.
“This is what separates him for the rest, he can run to a level that the majority can’t,’’ Crispe said.
“It is a bit of leap of faith that he will get back to his best on Saturday, however at least you know he can get there.’’
Crispe, who correctly selected big race winners Montefila (Spring Champion Stakes) and Ole Kirk (Caulfield Guineas) for The Daily Telegraph last week, rates Nature Strip’s big danger as Godolphin’s Bivouac.
“The James Cummings-trained Bivouac has only won one of his last eight starts, but that one win in the Newmarket Handicap was very special and certainly highlighted his talent,’’ Crispe said.
“He returned a Timeform rating of 127 and did it off a very similar platform to what he faces in the Everest.
“Bivouac ran to 117 in the Oakleigh Plate first-up in the autumn before elevating sharply in the Newmarket. Cumming is hoping his sprinter can do the same on Saturday.
“Like Nature Strip, that peak performance of 127 puts him into rare territory where a majority of his rivals can’t reach.’’
The consistent Gordon Richards-trained Gytrash has only missed the money once in 20 starts, including nine wins, two of which he beat home Nature Strip.
Gytrash, rated 123 by Timeform, he was back as good as ever when making his Sydney debut and winning the Concorde Stakes last month.
“He has improved with every preparation and looks on-track to return a new career peak,’’ Crispe said.
“Kept fresh, he heads into the Everest with six weeks between runs, a ploy Richards has done twice before, placing on both occasions.
“He notably produced him off a 29-day break to win the R N Irwin Stakes last preparation, beating Sunlight and returning a Timeform rating of 121.
“The jump from 1000m to 1200m is never easy, but this has always been the long-term plan and judging by his first-up win, they know how to get him right.’’
Crispe has the Les Bridge-trained Classique Legend among the top four finishers in The Everest.
“Classique Legend’s highest Timeform rating is 121 so has to go to a new level on Saturday, but this has always been his Grand Final and he appears to be tracking well,’’ he said.
“To this point he lacks the big peak performance of the above, however with even luck you get the feeling he can raise the bar.’’
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PUNTERS RALLY FOR NATURE STRIP
His trainer believes he’s the fastest horse in the world, his jockey maintains the big chestnut has improved and punters are siding with the super sprinter again.
Nature Strip, the reigning Horse of the Year, is back in favour for the $15 million The TAB Everest (1200m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
After successive defeats to start his spring campaign, Nature Strip got out to $8 for The Everest but after Tuesday’s night’s barrier draw which has him starting from gate five, punters have backed the Chris Waller-trained sprinter into $4.20 favouritism.
Punters believe Nature Strip can rebound off his indifferent form and return to his best, something the sprinter has done repeatedly through his career.
Waller revealed after Nature Strip’s fading fourth in the Premiere Stakes last start his team worked on finding out if the problem was then “deal with the problem as quickly as you can and get back to normal as quickly as you can.’’
“We have identified that he had a minor issue with a respiratory infection that has been on throughout his career,’’ Waller said.
“We have dealt with it a number of times but when it flares up it can be very hard to detect. After his last run, we detected some mucus down towards his lungs.
“Unless a horse is performing with 100 per cent lung capacity they are not going to perform at their best.
“Once we dealt with that we checked his blood to make sure everything else was good which it is and he’s in a good headspace.’’
Jockey James McDonald put Nature Strip through his paces on the course proper at Rosehill earlier this week and gave a positive report about the gelding on Everest eve.
“He looks a lot better in his coat, it’s starting to come through,’’ McDonald said.
“It’s a sign he has been improving all the time.’’
McDonald believes Nature Strip’s two losses this campaign “are not that bad” and he retains faith in the four-time Group 1 winner’s ability to perform on racing’s big stage on Saturday.
Waller wants McDonald to make use of Nature Strip’s best asset – his brilliant speed.
“It’s not just about making sure the race is run to suit him but also making sure he is not out of his comfort zone if he is leading, running second or third,’’ Waller said.
“I expect him to lead because I think he is the fastest horse in the world but sustaining that is another story,’’ Waller said.
“If something wants to go with Nature Strip I doubt they will be winning the race but they could be setting the race up for something in behind.
“It’s a very fine line, there needs to be a bit of tactics involved and that’s why we have a great jockey in James McDonald. He not only has confidence in the horse, he knows him so well.’’