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Chris Waller’s champion sprinter Nature Strip is tipped to return to winning form and atone for his devastatingly first-up loss when he returns to Sydney for the Group 2 $500,000 Challenge Stakes (1000m) on Saturday.
The reigning $15 million The Everest hero returned to racing in Flemington’s Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning (1000m) but things went amiss right from the jump.
Tardy away, the $16.3 million earner got sandwiched between runners soon after and had no right to finish as closely as he did when beaten the barest of margins by his young stablemate Home Affairs in a photo-finish.
“Nature Strip has never been in that position before but he handled it well,” Nature Strip’s jockey James McDonald told News Corp this week.
“He had a good horse to chase down and just fell short. His run was every bit as good as the winner.”
This weekend the horse heads home to Randwick and will get conditions to suit racing on a likely Heavy (10) track second-up in a small eight-horse Challenge Stakes field.
McDonald is aboard again from gate seven, Nature Strip sitting top of the Challenge Stakes odds of $1.65 through Ladbrokes.com.au to go one better than his second to Eduardo last year when failing to defend his title from 2020.
Success will see Nature Strip move up into second position with $16,622,790 trailing only Australia’s best mare, four-time Cox Plate hero Winx ($26,451,175), in Australia’s all-time greatest prizemoney earners overtaking dual The Everest champion Redzel ($16,444,000).
The Joe Pride-trained defending Challenge Stakes winner, Eduardo, also returns chasing back-to-back wins in the short-distance feature for the first time since smart mare English (2016-17).
The evergreen eight-year-old Host gelding also resumed in the Black Caviar Lightning running third behind the Waller quinella.
“Eduardo probably got a bit lost down the straight at Flemington,” Pride said.
“But he is back to a track, distance and race where he has had success previously.
“The horse is in terrific order and I’m looking forward to matching up against Nature Strip.
“It was a great race between these two in the Challenge last year and it is shaping up to be another exciting contest.”
With strong second-up form and the notch in his belt over Nature Strip in the upset last year, the bookies are keeping Eduardo safe in Challenge Stakes betting at $2.40 as he faces his adversary for the ninth time and first since his third in The Everest.
The score stands at 5-3 in favour of Nature Strip, but Eduardo won’t lie down without a fight setting up for a sensational showdown on the rain-soaked Randwick track that is unlikely to see a repeat of the reigning champ’s course record time of 55.2 seconds last year.
“Here we go again with Nature Strip and Eduardo, it’s great for racing,” McDonald said.
“Nature Strip is in great form, he worked superbly there on Tuesday morning.
“He looks in great condition, he’s blossoming and certainly hasn’t gone backwards.”
The rest of the field can be found at $26 and above for an unlikely upset and includes a second Waller-trained runner in Exceed And Excel mare September Run ($26) drawn the rails first-up chasing her first win since the 2020 Coolmore Stud Stakes and Godolphin stalwart Trekking ($31) on her outside in barrier two also resuming for the autumn.
2022 Challenge Stakes Field & Barrier Draw
|No||Last 10||Horse||Trainer||Jockey||Barrier||Weight||Probable Weight||Penalty||Hcp Rating|
|1||121x1211x2||NATURE STRIP||Chris Waller||James McDonald||7||58.5kg||121|
|2||1131x131x3||EDUARDO||Joseph Pride||Nash Rawiller||5||58.5kg||118|
|3||x554x3360x||TREKKING||James Cummings||Kerrin McEvoy||2||58.5kg||113|
|4||0168x4147x||SPLINTEX||Mark Newnham||Tom Sherry (a)||8||58.5kg||107|
|5||13x119x24x||AHEAD START||Danny Williams||Jason Collett||3||58.5kg||66|
|6||2282602521||SHELBY SIXTYSIX||Danny Williams||Tim Clark||6||58.5kg||62|
|7||048x37664x||SEPTEMBER RUN||Chris Waller||Tommy Berry||1||56.5kg||107|
|8||15x330x||REMARQUE||Michael, Wayne & John Hawkes||William Pike||4||56kg||90|
Table Credit: Racing Australia.
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