Rod Lyons, Patrick Harrison, Peter Kean et al’s Nature Strip (AUS) turned a clash of hemispheres into a heavily one-sided affair as he sprinted away with the King’s Stand Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot to secure a guaranteed start in the US$1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series is an international series of 82 stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which is scheduled to be held at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, on Nov. 4-5.
The best sprinter in Australia helped Sydney’s champion trainer Chris Waller secure his first victory in Britain when he routed a field containing the best turf sprinter in the United States, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Westerberg’s Golden Pal (USA).
The Wesley Ward-trained 9-5 favorite Golden Pal, winner of the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G1) and the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, produced an uncharacteristically poor performance, missing the break and though briefly getting into contention, fell away to finish last, 20 lengths behind the dominant winner. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. reported that Golden Pal was slowly away.
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So it was left to 8-year-old gelding Nature Strip to produce the fireworks, breaking well to take a prominent position early. He travelled comfortably throughout and was able to ease away from his opponents under James McDonald to win by 4 ½ lengths in a time of 58.25. Cheveley Park Stud’s Twilight Calls (GB) finished second with MPS Racing and MB Spence’s Acklam Express (IRE) taking third on ground rated good to firm.
King’s Stand Replay
Nature Strip became the seventh horse trained in Australia to capture the King’s Stand or Platinum Jubilee Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot.
McDonald said his only danger was when the loose Khaadem (IRE), who unseated his jockey in the gate, got close to Nature Strip near the finish.
“The way Nature Strip quickened up the rise, the way he executed his gallop, was scintillating,” McDonald said. “It was an unbelievable feeling coming up the rise and he was just idling along. I didn’t think a horse would come with him so when that horse came without the rider, I had a bit of a fright.”
“I’ve had an unbelievable year and this has been the icing on the cake. It’s been a dream come true to come here with such good horses. For him to travel like he has and for Chris to prep him for this race, I don’t think he has ever been better.”
“He has come a long way over four seasons. His demeanor is unbelievable. At the four (furlong) pole I saw the American (Golden Pal) under pressure and I hadn’t even moved. It’s been a big build-up and a long process so to be here finally and to get a result is unbelievable.”
Waller’s Second Trip to Royal Ascot
On his only previous trip to Royal Ascot, Waller, who won 33 consecutive races and 28 at Group 1 level, had to settle for second place when Brazen Beau (AUS) was beaten a half-length by the Ward-trained Undrafted in the 2015 Diamond Jubilee Stakes (G1).
“It means a lot,” Waller said. “Winning this race is in the top five of my achievements. We don’t get the chance to race against the English, Irish, French or Americans, even in Dubai and Hong Kong. It was a breathtaking display. Nature Strip is a very good horse and has been for a very long time. I guess he is in the twilight of his career.
“Australia has a huge racing industry, huge breeding industry and so it’s very important to showcase our horses. He is one of the highest rated horses in the world but until you do it on the main stage it’s another story. It will remind everyone how strong we are in Australia.”
Managing owner Rod Lyons said: “It’s a dream come true. It’s something we hoped to do two or three years ago but COVID stopped it. I’ve never been so nervous in all my life as I was today thinking that everyone in Australia and New Zealand is watching this horse. We knew how good he was.”
Lyons said the long-range plan for Nature Strip is to win the Everest for a second time in at Royal Randwick in Sydney, though in the immediate term, he is still entered in Saturday’s 6-furlong Platinum Jubilee Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot.
He added: “We did speak to Chris before the race to see whether we would back up again and he was non-committal. If he pulls up okay there is every chance he can. It’s up to Chris and the vet. Then we will get him home safely and have another crack at the Everest.”
As part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for Nature Strip (AUS) to start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Breeders’ Cup also will provide a US$40,000 travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships. The Challenge winner must be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup program by the pre-entry deadline of Oct. 24 to receive the rewards.