Australian raider Nature Strip ran out an emphatic winner of the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.
A multiple Group One winner in his homeland for Chris Waller, best known as the trainer of the great racemare Winx, Nature Strip was the 9-4 second-favourite for a much-anticipated international clash with Wesley Ward’s American challenger and dual Breeders’ Cup winner Golden Pal.
The writing was on the wall for supporters of the latter soon after the gates opened, however, with the usually rapid starter completely missing the break, from which point it was all about the Australian runner.
After initially taking a lead, Nature Strip – with the loose Khaadem for company – moved to the front two furlongs from home still full of running and found another gear once popped the question by James McDonald.
The rest of the field were simply left trailing in his wake as the seven-year-old engaged overdrive and passed the post with four and a half lengths in hand over Twilight Calls, with 200-1 shot Acklam Express and Mooneista close up in third and fourth respectively.
Waller was recording his first Royal Ascot winner after coming close with Diamond (now Platinum) Jubilee runner-up Brazen Beau in 2015.
He said: “It means a lot. We don’t get the chance to race against the English, the Irish and even Americans today an awful lot.
“It’s pretty special to bring a horse all this way and compete against the best in the world and to win the way he did.
“It was breathtaking, it was a good display and he’s a very good horse. He has been for a long time.
“I guess he’s in the twilight of his career, but he’s learned to be a racehorse now as he was tricky early on. It’s an honour to train him.
“Going international is very important to showcase our breed in Australia and of course he’s one of the highest-rated horses in the world and it’s stacked up.
“We’ll see how he is after this and we’ll make a decision later in the week on whether he runs in the Platinum Jubilee (on Saturday).
“This is definitely in the top five wins I’ve ever had.”
Connections of the placed horses were understandably thrilled with their efforts.
Henry Candy said of Twilight Calls: “It was a great run, wasn’t it? I’m absolutely delighted. What can you say about the winner. How many races has he won, how many million has he won – he is just a freak.
“I thought he ran a cracker. Ryan (Moore) said it was a messy start and he lost a length or so. That didn’t help – he would have been a better second that’s all. It would not have made the slightest difference. I would imagine he will go to York – somewhere where they go very quick. He loves this ground. A gorgeous horse isn’t he?”
Nigel Tinkler added of Acklam Express: “Fantastic. The winner is very very good. We thought we would finish in the first half, but we didn’t expect to finish as close as that. We’re absolutely delighted.
“He is just a lovely, lovely horse. York and obviously Goodwood are on the agenda. He shows he is very, very quick. We expected him to come from behind and run well, and he was ridden to win and that made him run better, if that makes sense.
“Probably we would have like to have been a bit further back early, but he really travelled. The winner is obviously very, very good.
“All the owners are very happy – they backed him to finish in the first half at 40-1.
“He has been to Dubai before, and the Breeders’ Cup will be high on the agenda. We went with Ubettabelieveit and we can’t wait to go back there.”