Nature Strip answered one question Tuesday: who’s the best turf sprinter in the world. Now, the star Australian gelding has a history question to answer:
Will he run again Saturday in the Platinum Jubilee Stakes, on Royal Ascot’s final day?
After taking apart Tuesday’s Group 1 King’s Stand by 4 ½ lengths, Nature Strip conquered another mountain. The next hill is following in the hoofprints of Down Under predecessors Choisir and Blue Point by running in the Platinum Jubilee. That would be two sprints in five days, but then again, Nature Strip is running out of things to prove.
“Nature Strip still has jobs to do in Australia, but we’ll see how he comes through this race and no decision will be made today,” trainer Chris Waller said. “This is the top five in my career.”
Nature Strip dispatches all comers, all countries
It should. Along with removing any doubt about who the world’s top turf sprinter is, Nature Strip’s victory gave Waller his first Royal Ascot title.
“It means a lot. We don’t get the opportunity very often to come here and take on the English, Irish, French, Americans and even Dubai and Hong Kong runners,” Waller said. “To therefore bring a horse here and not only run, but win, is very special. It was breathtaking. 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, but he has learned to be a racehorse.”
Nature Strip turned aside all of the above in 58.25 seconds for the five furlongs. That included Khaadem, the Irish-bred sprinter who tossed his rider at the start and came up alongside Nature Strip near the wire.
“The way Nature Strip quickened up the rise, the way he executed his gallop, was scintillating,” jockey James McDonald said after the race. “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.”
Golden Pal defanged from the outset
That also included Golden Pal, Wesley Ward’s two-time Breeders’ Cup-winning sprinter who was expected to give Nature Strip a front-row runner to target. Instead, Golden Pal missed the break when jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was distracted by Mondammej, who was acting up outside the gates. He was scratched, but the gates opened before Ortiz was ready.
That took away the lethal gate speed Golden Pal used to dominate North American turf sprinting. He came into the King’s Stand 6-for-his-last-7. He came out with his third loss in as many European races, finishing 20 lengths back in last place.
Ward has two more runners going Wednesday. He’ll send out Love Reigns in the Group 2 Queen Mary, a five-furlong sprint for 2-year-old fillies. She won her debut at Keeneland by nearly 10 lengths in April, which opened enough eyes to make her a 3/1 favorite.
Ward also sends out Seismic Spirit in the Listed Windsor Castle. His prospects aren’t as bright as Love Reigns in his five-furlong sprint for 2-year-olds. He’s 12/1. Seismic Spirit lost by a head in his Churchill Downs maiden special weight debut last month.