Royal Ascot recruiter Nick Smith has already seen what Nature Strip can do and is looking forward to the star sprinter’s return in the Group One Lightning Stakes at Flemington.
Saturday’s weight-for-age Lightning (1000m) will be the Chris Waller-trained Nature Strip’s first race since he dominated the VRC Sprint Classic (1200m) down the Flemington straight in November to win by 3-1/4-lengths and snare his third Group One win of 2019.
Nature Strip heads Smith’s wishlist for Royal Ascot this year and the sprinter’s connections have indicated a trip to England is on the cards for the meeting in June which includes feature sprints, the King’s Stand Stakes and Diamond Jubilee Stakes.
“Nature Strip is definitely the top target this year,” Smith, Ascot director of racing and public affairs, said at Flemington on Friday.
Smith said the team behind Nature Strip was keen on a Royal Ascot mission.
“I had a very good lunch with a couple of them in Sydney earlier in the week and I’ve obviously kept in touch with Chris and (racing manager) Charlie Duckworth and the horse thrives on the straight,” Smith said.
“The form of his VRC Classic win, if you transfer it across he’s the favourite for either race that he runs in especially with Blue Point, who was our champion sprinter last year now retired.”
Smith says triple Group One, winner Sunlight is another on the radar for a Royal Ascot campaign and he is also hopes Coolmore Stud Stakes-winning colt Exceedance will head that way.
Nature Strip is unbeaten in four Flemington appearances and is the $1.45 Lightning favourite, having won two recent Sydney barrier trials.
Among his six rivals is seven-year-old dual Everest winner Redzel whose co-trainer Peter Snowden believes is as good as he can be for a first-up tilt against a “formidable” opponent.
“His asset is his speed and so is the favourite’s,” Snowden said.
“We’ll just try to stay in touch with him and hopefully the old bull comes out on top and can out-tough the young gun.”