Co-favourite Nature Strip has snared the richest race in the country after winning the 1200m at The TAB Everest.
The champion horse, ridden by jockey James McDonald, beat second-place Masked Crusader and third-place Eduardo to gallop to victory at Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney on Saturday.
It was the third time Nature Strip had raced in the prestigious sprint after placing fourth and seventh during the first two attempts.
Some 10,000 spectators cheered on as the champion sprinter finished in fine form to take home the $6.2million main prize.
Nature Strip, trained by Chris Waller, was tipped as the co-favourite for the weight-for-age race. He was up against last year’s winner Classique Legend.
The seven-year-old gelding jumped well early and led virtually all the way to hold off a fast-finishing Masked Crusader and his next big challenger Eduardo.
Sky Racing expert Brad Davison labelled Eduardo the ‘clear danger’ in the lead up to the race.
‘I think he’s terribly hard to beat,’ he said. ‘I thought the wind was the big factor today and seeing what Big Parade did in the Sydney Stakes, sitting outside lead.
‘I think he’ll get in that position outside lead and is clearly the one to beat. Classique Legend, I’ve been against him all week.
‘Dry track helps him, good draw helps him but I just think it’ll be a bridge too far. Eduardo I think is the clear danger, he’ll be up there on speed.’
The victory marks the second time a Waller-trained horse has won the race after Yes Yes Yes claimed top spot in 2019.
The fairytale ending came just hours after shockwaves were sent throughout the horse racing community as Cox Plate winner Sir Dragonet was euthanised following a track work injury.
The stallion broke down 800m into his gallop during an early morning warm-up run at Moonee Valley on Saturday.
The valuable entire was having his final piece of serious work heading into a defence of his Cox Plate crown at the racetrack next week. The tragedy also comes just hours before Everest – the country’s richest race – and Caulfield Cup are set to take place.
‘It is with great sadness to report that Cox Plate champion Sir Dragonet has been euthanised after tragically breaking down in a track gallop this morning,’ the Moonee Valley Racing Club confirmed in a statement.
Co-trainer Ciaron Maher was at Moonee Valley as Sir Dragonet was one of 18 horses scheduled to go through their paces ahead of the Cox Plate carnival.
The horse reportedly faltered 800m into his gallop.
‘We’re heartbroken to announce that Sir Dragonet has broken down during a piece of work at Moonee Valley this morning and was euthanised on course,’ Ciaron Maher Racing said in a statement.
‘In the year that the Dragon has been in our care, he has won our hearts with his exploits both on and off the track.
‘In the year that the Dragon has been in our care, he has won our hearts with his exploits both on and off the track.’
Sir Dragonet won the $5million Group 1 W.S Cox Plate last year. The champion stallion beat out Armory and Russian Camelot for the top gong.
Sir Dragonet started his racing career in Ireland out of the all-conquering stable of Aiden O’Brien before his sale to an Australian ownership group last year.
The syndicate struck immediate paydirt when Sir Dragonet won the $5 million Cox Plate at his first Australian start for Maher and his training partner David Eustace.
Sir Dragonet ran sixth in the Melbourne Cup at his next outing and returned in the autumn to win a Group One race in Sydney.
He was on target to run well again in the Cox Plate after two lead-in races when finishing close-up each time behind boom horse Incentivise.
‘Our condolences go out to his owners, connections and all who cared for this wonderful horse,’ Ciaron Maher Racing said.
‘It has left a hole in our hearts but we’re forever thankful for our time with him and he will forever remain a Cox Plate champion.
‘Rest easy Dragon.’
The incident comes as a shock to the horse racing community with The Everest just hours away from happening at Royal Randwick in Sydney.
The $15million race was given an exemption to host a crowd of 10,000 punters.
The boost is still well short of the 42,000 who packed Randwick Racecourt in 2019 for the event.
The Australian Turf Club has drawn up its Covid-safe protocol for the day which includes one punter every four square metres.’
Chief executive Jamie Barkley said he was thrilled the race would be going ahead.
‘The Australian Turf Club has been working closely with the NSW government throughout the pandemic and we are thrilled to be opening the gates to more people this Saturday,’ he said.
‘Sydney and our racing is back open for business during the $50 million Everest carnival and for a race and event being watched around the world.
‘The Sydney spring is ready to shine with spectators and the ATC is ready to a lead the way in a COVID-safe reopening across the city.’Internet Explorer Channel Network