Stripped down and ready to go, but TJ a big ask
Trainer Chris Waller won't be able to take Nature Strip overseas to take on the world but he has an even tougher task trying to win the sprint race of the year at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Nature Strip drew barrier one and has firmed into $3.90 favouritism for the Group 1 $1.25 million TJ Smith Stakes (1200m), which has attracted such an outstanding field it is likely to be the highlight race of the Doncaster-Derby on day one of The Championships.
There are nine individual Group 1 winners in the TJ Smith field, including defending champ Santa Ana Lane, dual Everest winner Redzel, elite sprinters Pierata, Trekking and In Her Time, and crack three-year-olds Bivouac, Loving Gaby and Exceedance.
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The 13 starters in the TJ Smith Stakes have collectively won 98 races, including 19 at Group 1 level, for total prizemoney or more than $48 million.
Waller said the TJ Smith was an Everest-like field but maintained Nature Strip was in peak form and condition for Saturday's showdown.
"Nature Strip has never raced better,'' Waller said.
"Forget his run in the Lightning Stakes (fourth to Gytrash), he was just too fresh. We rode him positively from the barriers and we should have ridden him a touch more conservatively.
"It was no one else's fault but my own, I gave the instructions to James (McDonald). Nature Strip ran his race in the first 600m and forgot about the last 400m.
"But it was good to see him bounce back last start (winning the Challenge Stakes over Redzel) and I think over 1200m he will be even more effective. I was pleased to see his trial go ahead last Friday because he was able to burn off some energy and the horse is exactly where I need him to be for this race.''
Waller doesn't have a runner in the Australian Derby or Inglis Sires Produce Stakes but will saddle up eight of the 20 starters in the $1.5 million Doncaster Mile with Kolding, Kings Will Dream, Mister Sea Wolf, Star Of The Seas, Yulong Prince, Imaging, Night's Watch and Shared Ambition. He also has entered third emergency Reloaded.
The main big-race news for Randwick on Saturday includes:
■ If Waller can win the Doncaster, it will be his seventh success in 12 years in the famous race, equalling the race training record of Gai Waterhouse and her father, the late Tommy Smith;
■Waterhouse is aiming for an eighth Doncaster herself with last-start Coolmore Classic winner Con Te Partiro and second emergency Wolfe;
■ Jockey Glen Boss is also hoping for a record eighth Doncaster when he rides $6.50 favourite Brandenburg;
■ Superstar Kiwi mare Melody Belle, a winner of 10 Group 1 races, is Doncaster topweight with 57kg;
■ Castelvecchio, last-start winner of the Rosehill Guineas, is the $3.10 favourite to win the $1 million Australian Derby (2400m);
■ Golden Slipper minor placegetter Mamaragan is $4.40 favourite for the $500,000 Inglis Sires.
Waller had planned to use the TJ Smith Stakes as a springboard to sending Nature Strip to England for Royal Ascot in June but the coronavirus pandemic has affected international travel and already shut down British racing for the time being.
"We won't be risking my staff or the owners by travelling to England,'' Waller said.
"So, we need a much brighter outlook especially based on the numbers (coronavirus infections and deaths) coming out of England, which are tremendously sad.
"Who knows, they might run Royal Ascot later in the year. Maybe things will turn around quickly, maybe there is next year.
"Nature Strip is going to be around for a long time yet if we look after him.''
COLT IN FOR ONE HELL OF A RIDE IN TJ SMITH
Godolphin's glamour colt Bivouac is early favourite to beat a crack collection of sprinters in the $2.5 million TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
A field worthy of The Everest will line up in the TJ Smith which promises to be one of the races of the autumn carnival.
Bivouac has won the Golden Rose and Newmarket at Group 1 level this season and is the $5 favourite in early TAB Fixed Odds betting to win Saturday's feature sprint.
The brilliant colt is one of the elite members of this season's golden generation of three-year-olds and his TJ Smith rivals will include outstanding filly Loving Gaby and Team Hawkes's top colt Exceedance.
Loving Gaby defeated Bivouac (third) and Exceedance (sixth) in the William Reid Stakes last start, her second Group 1 weight-for-age win of the season after she took out the Manikato Stakes last spring.
Ciaron Maher, trainer of Loving Gaby, said the filly has been set for the TJ Smith while long-term races like The Everest and even the Golden Eagle in spring are possibilities.
"The TJ (Smith) has always been the plan first,'' Maher said.
"But I wouldn't say a race like the Golden Eagle, similar to what Sunlight did, mightn't be out of her reach given she has been to the mile. If she pulls up well, we'll definitely look at that.''
Exceedance had no luck in the William Reid Stakes but he is a very talented colt and did defeat Bivouac in the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes last spring.
The three-year-old age group have managed only one TJ Smith win since 2010 - Trapeze Artist in 2018.
It won't be easy for the young sprinters to win the feature sprint this Saturday with an outstanding group of older horses lining up in the big race.
They include super sprinters Nature Strip, Santa Ana Lane and Redzel, who ran 1,2,3 in a Randwick barrier trial last Friday in preparation for the TJ Smith Stakes.
Nature Strip showed superior speed to win by just over a length from the fast finishing Santa Ana Lane with Redzel about a half length away third. The trio have collectively won 38 races and more than $28 million prizemoney.
Dual Everest champ Redzel, who has run second in both the Lightning Stakes and Challenge Stakes in two starts this autumn, pleased jockey Kerrin McEvoy with his trial effort.
"I thought Redzel had a nice trial,'' McEvoy said. "We were quick out of the barriers but Nature Strip 'burned' around us.
"I gave Redzel little nudge the last furlong so he has had a good hit out ahead of next Saturday.
"He's in good order, he moved well and his attitude is there, he's ready to go.''
Pierata, winner of the Premiere Stakes and Redzel Stakes last spring, will also add his considerable presence to the TJ Smith Stakes field along with Everest minor placegetter Trekking, In Her Time and another talented three-year-old Standout.
Originally published as Stripped down and ready to go, but TJ a big ask