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‘He is a brute’: McDonald says Nature Strip still the horse to beat

“He likes getting out in the odds and when he does, he normally performs pretty well. He doesn’t like those short quotes,” McDonald said cheekily, referring to Nature Strip being favourite at both of his defeats this spring.

While there have been disappointments, the champion hoop remembers well the devastating performances Nature Strip produced in the VRC Sprint Classic and TJ Smith.

James McDonald.

James McDonald.Credit:Getty

“He is a brute on his day, but as everyone knows he is quirky,” McDonald said. “One thing I did notice, he is definitely looking a bit better in his coat. It is starting to come through and he is improving all the time. I thought his past few performances haven’t been that bad, so I’m looking forward to the race.”

Waller, who also has Haut Brion Her in The Everest, is clear on his thinking about Nature Strip ahead of the 1200m sprint.

“I think he is the best horse in the race, but I also respect current form,” Waller said. “His current form isn’t as good as others in the race.

“The vet is very happy with his blood levels. He has bounced back really well from the latest problem. Had we known about it going into [the Premiere] we wouldn’t have run him. He is all good now.”

Chris Waller with Haut Brion Her on Tuesday morning.

Chris Waller with Haut Brion Her on Tuesday morning.Credit:Getty

Nature Strip at his best is a speed machine few can match. He has won the next two biggest sprints in Australia during the past 12 months – the VRC Sprint Classic and TJ Smith, but for a sprinter The Everest is the ultimate peak.

On both those big occasions, he relaxed and ran sectionals which had every other horse out of their comfort zones and chasing.

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“It has been about harnessing that [speed by] a half-length, a length and that’s what he is doing now. He is ready for his grand final and hopefully, he will perform up to expectations,” McDonald said. “It is quite evident he gets better the deeper gets into his preparation.”

Nature Strip and Haut Brion Her completed their Everest preparation by galloping solo around Rosehill, both breezing home under little pressure, which was actually what their trainer wanted.

“They were both very similar, we had them breaking 24 seconds for the last 400m and that is about standard for a very good sprinter,” Waller said.

“They still had plenty left in the concluding stages. Who knows what they could have run, but we will see that on Saturday.”

Brenton Avdulla has picked up the ride on Haut Brion Her, which was only confirmed on Monday, and gave her a test on Tuesday, following Nature Strip about 100 metres behind him.

“She was great. I have had a couple of feels of her now and it obviously isn’t just a last-minute thing that they’ve been thinking about with her,” Avdulla said.

“I remember having a sit on her about four or five weeks ago after her first-up win and she gave me the feel of a group 1 mare so it has certainly been a target for a little bit so for her to get a slot is exciting. I am sure she won’t disgrace herself.”

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