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It wasn’t pretty, but Nature Strip has claimed a fourth consecutive victory for champion trainer Darren Weir at Moonee Valley on Saturday.
The Everest bound hopeful was the short $1.55 favourite with Ladbrokes ahead of the McEwen Stakes (1000m), but nearly met her match down the straight as the Toby Edmond trained Houtzen dove at the line late.
Nature Strip jumped well from barrier 1 to establish an inside position ahead of Sunday Escape, eventually going on to set a new Valley track record of 56.95 seconds over the distance.
Jockey Mark Zahra’s strategy was to sit up on the speed, and despite showing some good rhythm early, the good work nearly came undone as Houtzen exploded in the final 100m.
“I just had to assert my lead, he was just running a bit too hard during the first bit” Zahra told Racing.com after the race.
“I had his ears pricked around the bend, by the time the race was there ready to go he was ready to relax.”
Although the Weir trained speedster hasn’t formally secured a spot ahead of the world’s richest sprint race in October, the run has still seen Nature Strip firm into $6.00 behind Trapeze Artist ($4.80) and Redzel ($4.80) to win The Everest.
Weir appeared a little unhappy about Saturday’s close call following the race, but still insists the four-year old is well on his way.
“Ridden obviously differently to that, today was about the barrier and normally we wouldn’t rev horses out of the barrier like that, but if he (Zahra) didn’t, then it becomes messy” Weir said.
“All you can do is win I guess, and he’s got that done”
When asked about The Everest, Weir also claims Nature Strip’s immediate future is entirely up to the owners with just two slots remaining.
“They’ve said to me during the week they’ve had interest from a couple parties. They’ve said if he wins then there more than likely would be a spot”.
Other Everest hopeful Shoals sat back early in the race to run third. The three-time Group 1 winner currently sits on the third line of betting at $18.00.
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