Nature Strip (Nicconi) proved himself as the fastest horse in Australia with his brilliant win in the Darley Sprint Classic (registered as VRC Sprint Classic) (Gr 1, 1200m) at Flemington on Saturday.
“He was airborne, floating across the ground,” jockey James McDonald said later. After featuring in this column on numerous occasions for his efforts on the clock, Nature Strip showed the benefit of his time in the Chris Waller stable this year in providing a career-highlight on Saturday.
Since joining the leading stable in February, Waller and regular rider McDonald have attempted to achieve the seemingly impossible in getting Nature Strip to settle and use his brilliant speed in a more effective way. And while he still went about pursuing his front-running role, McDonald did manage to get Nature Strip through a reasonably docile first 200 metres before lifting the tempo to a very quick pace before dashing clear to win by three and a quarter lengths in a time of 1:09.23.
His sectionals (from the 1000m) demonstrated Nature Strip’s talent with a 200 metre breakdown of: 10.65, 10.99 (400m in 21.64), 10.65 (600m in 32.63), 11.02 (800m in 43.28) with his last 200 metres in 11.53 to a final 1000 metres in a fast 54.81.The Darley Sprint Classic was Nature Strip’s third Group 1 victory – all achieved in eight starts since being trained by Waller - and his 12th win in 20 starts.
The runner-up, the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained filly Loving Gaby (I Am Invincible), also impressed on the watch. Winner of the Manikato Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) at Moonee Valley on her previous start, the talented three-year-old filly settled in sixth place, before going to second at the 300 metres and then fighting on gamely under her 51.5 kilograms (Nature Strip conceding her 7kg) for second.
Loving Gaby’s sectional times were impressive, her 200 metre breakdown (from the 1000m) being: 10.79, 11.13 (400m in 21.92), 10.79 (600m in 32.71), 10.77 (800m in 43.48) and 11.49 for a final 100 metres in a fast 54.97.
Dual Group 1 winner In Her Time (Time Thief )was a length and a quarter away in third with multiple Group 1 winners Alizee (Sepoy) (5.9 lengths) fourth and Santa Ana Lane (Lope De Vega) fifth, beaten six lengths.
The L K S Mackinnon Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) saw the Aidan O’Brien-trained mare Magic Wand (Galileo) produce a marvellous effort in backing up after finishing 10th in the Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) to record a deserved Group 1 victory after six seconds at Group/Grade 1 level.
She was given a good ride by Ryan Moore, racing in third place before going to the front on passing the 200 metres mark and then fighting back to score by a length from the late-closing New Zealand star Melody Belle (Commands) with Hartnell (Authorized) a short head away third in 2:01.82.
The race was run at a good tempo with the first 1400 metres clocking 1:26.78 (12.39)with the final 600 metres in 35.05 (11.68 200m rate) with Magic Wand running home in a smart 34.83 for that final 600 metre section.
But the horse to really impress on the watch was Melody Belle, who had been eased from her difficult barrier (15) by jockey Opie Bosson, and after settling back in third last place in the 16-runner field, she came with a strong late run when clear for an unlucky second.
Melody Belle returned the fastest closing sectional times of the race with her last 1400 metres in 1:22.67, last 1200 metres in 1:10.67, last 1000 metres in 57.42, last 800 metres in 45.45, last 600 metres in 33.65, last 400 metres in 22.47 with her final 200 metres in 11.42.
Saturday’s Rosehill meeting featured the inaugural running of the $1 million Golden Gift (1100m) for two-year-olds, with a number of the juveniles impressing on the watch.
The winner was the Peter and Paul Snowden-trained filly Dame Giselle (I Am Invincible) who was having her second race start, and after settling in fourth place tracking a smart pace, she dashed clear in the straight to recor a dominant three and three-quarter length victory.
Time for the 1100 metre journey was 1:03.71 (11.58 200m rate), equivalent to 1200 metres in 1:09.50.
Dame Giselle returned fast closing sectionals: 55.60 (last 1000m), 44.59 (last 800m), 33.34 (last 600m) and 22.29 for her final 400 metres.
See You Soon (Siyouni), who made ground from the tail of the field for second, clocked: 55.43 (last 1000m), 44.43 (last 800m), 33.28 (last 600m) and 22.26 for her final 400 metres.
Blaze A Trail (Criterion), a stablemate of the winner, ran well for third on debut and clocked: 56.25 (last 1000m), 45.44 (last 800m), 33.28 (last 600m) with his final 400 metres in 23.11.
Cellsabeel (Hinchinbrook), a Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained filly, came from last to finish (4.8 lengths) fourth on debut and clocked: 55.62 (last 1000m), 44.55 (last 800m), 33.27 (last 600m) and 22.24 for her final 400 metres.
All four staged very good performances, especially the winner Dame Giselle and the runner-up See You Soon, while Blaze A Trail and Cellsabeel are clearly talented, too – all four being juveniles with a promising future.