Nature Strip destroyed a crack field of international gallopers in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes (1000m) at Royal Ascot to remind the world that when it comes to breeding sprinters, there’s no place quite like Australia.
The son of Widden Stud’s Nicconi became the fifth Australian horse to win one of the globe’s most prestigious sprint races on the opening day of one of world racing’s most revered meetings.
Nature Strip wowed a huge crowd on a gloriously sunny afternoon with a sustained show of speed down the famous Ascot straight to claim the ninth Group 1 of a glittering career.
Whilst he may not boast a race record as unblemished as that of Black Caviar, the last Australian horse to triumph at Ascot 10 years ago, there is no doubt that the Chris Waller-trained speedster can now be considered amongst the fastest horses the country has ever produced.
With Nicconi now standing at Widden Stud’s farm in Victoria, the victory was also another feather in the cap for the state’s buoyant breeding industry.
Speaking after the race, a characteristically emotional Waller paid tribute to a supreme equine athlete which, had it not been for the mighty mare Winx, would have been considered the horse of his lifetime.
“I don’t know what more I can say about him,” he said.
“This means an awful lot to me and my whole team. We don’t get the opportunity very often to take on the rest of the world, so to bring a horse over here and win is very special. It was breathtaking.
“Nature Strip has been a very good horse for a long time, I guess he is now in the twilight of his career but he has learned what it takes to be an exceptional racehorse. He was tricky in his early career, but he has improved with age and it’s an honour to train a horse like him.
“Australia has a massive breeding and racing industry, and to showcase our breeds to the world is very important. Ratings stack up and he is one of the highest-rated horses in the world, but until you do it on the main stage they’re just numbers really. It will remind everybody how strong Australian racing is.”
Part-owner Steve Hansen, who enjoyed a glittering coaching career for the New Zealand All-Blacks, was equally caught up in the excitement of a moment he ranked amongst the greatest of his life.
“I didn’t think I would get this emotional, but I’m actually quite choked up,” he said.
“It’s difficult to compare it to my rugby career, but this is certainly right up there with the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had.
“To do it with such a great group of owners makes it even more special, we’ve had the best time since we got here and even if Nature Strip hadn’t won today, I would still have taken some great memories away. But for him to put on a performance like that, it’s just a dream come true really.
“And for the horse to be trained and ridden by fellow Kiwis, and two champion guys, it just tops everything off.”