Seven year-old Nicconi gelding Nature Strip is a sight to behold when he’s at his best and we saw that at Randwick on Saturday when he strolled away with the Group I ATC TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) for the third year in a row posting his biggest winning margin yet in the $2.5 million sprint.
Trained by Chris Waller and ridden by James McDonald as he was in the previous two years, Nature Strip jumped from the outside gate in the field of 11 and was never troubled winning by three lengths over perennial foe Eduardo and gallant 3YO Paulele.
He won by three and a quarter lengths taking his overall record to 20 wins and eight placings from 32 starts with earnings a whisker shy of $18million.
His three wins in the Group I TJ Smith stakes equalled the effort of Chautauqua, who won it in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and there is no reason to think he couldn’t come back and win it again in 2023.
Nature Strip was beaten at his first two runs this preparation finishing an unlucky second to Home Affairs in the Group I VRC Lightning Stakes and then third in the Group II ATC Challenge Stakes behind Eduardo and Shelby Sixtysix, who finished seventh today.
“We took it a bit cheap last start, we got him to button off and relax but he’s actually got to put a bit of pressure on them,” Waller said.
“Nature Strip’s biggest arsenal is to put the others out of their comfort zone early.
“He is a better horse in the autumn and he’s a good horse over 1200 metres.”
The world beckons for Nature Strip with a trip with stablemate Home Affairs to Royal Ascot in the planning followed by a defence of his Everest crown.
“I’m sure the main aim is to have him back here for the Everest and if we can shoot over and see our friends at Royal Ascot it would be pretty special,” Waller said.
“It’s good to be taking the right horses and these two are the best sprinters in Australia.
“It would be nice if they could both get there. It’s still a long way off.”
James McDonald has forged a remarkable partnership with Nature Strip riding him in 10 of his 20 wins.
“It’s just unbelievable isn’t it? Three of them,” McDonald said.
“He’s got the Everest, he’s won everything in Australia. He’s just an incredible, incredible horse.
“This one, I don’t know, it feels just surreal. I just sort of feel numb because the horse is just a marvel.”
Bred by Golden Grove, Nature Strip was passed in as a yearling and is a half-brother to stakes-winner The Barrister from Group III winning Desert Sun (GB) mare Strikeline, who has not had a foal since 2016 according to studbook.
Nature Strip is the best performer for Nicconi, who relocated to Widden Stud Victoria last year and covered 118 mares at a fee of $27,500.