The 2022 Royal Ascot Festival delivered many highlights across the five-day showcase of flat racing, but arguably the performance of the week came on the opening day. Top-rated Australian sprinter Nature Strip took the King’s Stand Stakes in a performance that trainer Chris Waller called one of the greatest of his long career.
When Waller, who has trained legends like Winx in the past, points to a great performance, it’s an assessment worth hearing. But even a layman can see that Nature Strip has become the world’s best sprinter. And his focus is now on retaining The Everest – the world’s richest turf race.
The Everest 2022 will take place on 4th October at Randwick in. And while there are many things that can change the narrative of the race between now and then, most would agree that Nature Strip deserves to be the ante-post market leader. He won the race as starting favourite in 2021, and he has arguably enhanced his reputation since then. The current odds for Nature Strip are somewhere in the region of 5/2 (3.50/+350), and to be frank, that seems generous.
McDonald is on top of the world
While Waller’s name being on the racecard as the trainer is always going to encourage punters to open their wallets, we should also point to Nature Strip’s partnership with jockey James McDonald. We haven’t the space to list all of McDonald’s achievements here, but it’s suffice to say that the 2021 World Jockey of the Year and current Sydney Jockey Premiership leader is in the form of his life.
He was as much responsible for Nature Strip’s Ascot win as the horse itself. McDonald is, put simply, the world’s best jockey, and he knows Nature Strip inside out, having partnered with the superstar sprinter no fewer than 20 times at the time of writing.
From a betting perspective, backing Nature Strip for The Everest seems a no-brainer. The main question is whether to take the ante-post odds or wait until closer to the time. Barring injury, there is no question that Waller is targeting Nature Strip at one of the world’s richest prizes in October. The $15 million (AUD) prize money is just too lucrative for Nature Strip’s owners to ignore. But if Nature Strip continues his preparations in the same vein of form as he has shown this summer, those odds will narrow.
Competition from Mazu
Nonetheless, the prize money on offer for The Everest means that there will be stiff competition. At the moment, that competition seems to be in the form of Mazu, an up-and-coming sprinter trained by Peter and Paul Snowden. Mazu had a blisteringly-good autumn (in Australia), and the 3yo seems primed to step up for greater challenges in the Australian spring carnival calendar in the coming months.
Another to look out for is Classique Legend, who beat Nature Strip in the 2020 Everest race. But we can’t help but feel the experience of Nature Strip, the supreme handling from McDonald, and the nous of Waller will count for a lot when the big-money race comes around.
For cautious punters, it might be well worth having a look at each-way claims for Nature Strip. We have seen chinks in the armor over the last couple of seasons, but they have usually been put down to unsuitable conditions or the horse being hampered at the off. With all being equal, there is no chance that Nature Strip finishes out of the top 3.
The last time Nature Strip failed to be placed in a race was his 7th place when losing out to Classique Legend in the 2020 Everest. But Nature Strip is a different horse now. Punters should keep an eye on him, because the world’s fastest sprinter under the world’s best jockey looks set to deliver again.