King castle

Nature Strip makes winning natural in Royal Ascot’s King’s Stand

Nature Strip answered a question on Tuesday: who is the best turf sprinter in the world. Now Australia’s star gelding has a history question to answer:

Australia’s Nature Strip proved too good for everyone, including Golden Pal, in Tuesday’s Group 1 King’s Stand at Royal Ascot. (Image: Photo by Megan Ridgwell)

Will he race in the Platinum Jubilee Stakes again on Saturday, the final day of Royal Ascot?

After defeating Tuesday’s Group 1 King’s Stand by 4½ lengths, Nature Strip conquered another mountain. The Next Hill follows in the footsteps of predecessors Down Under Choose and Blue Point by racing in the Platinum Jubilee. It would be two sprints in five days, but again, Nature Strip is running out of things to prove.

“Nature Strip still has some work to do in Australia but we’ll see how it fare and no decision will be made today,” coach Chris Waller said. “It’s the top five of my career.”

Nature Strip ships all comers, all countries

It should. As well as dispelling any doubts about the identity of the best turf sprinter in the world, the Nature Strip win gave Waller his first Royal Ascot title.

“It means a lot. We don’t often get the opportunity to come here and race the English, Irish, French, American and even Dubai and Hong Kong riders,” Waller said. “Bringing a horse here and not just racing, but winning is very special. It was breathtaking. Nature Strip is a very good horse and has been for a very long time. I guess he’s in the twilight of his career, but he’s learned to be a racehorse.

Nature Strip negated all of the above in 58.25 seconds for all five stadiums. This included Khaadem, the Irish-bred sprinter who threw his runner off the start and came alongside Nature Strip near the wire.

“The way Nature Strip sped up the climb, the way he executed his canter, was scintillating,” jockey James McDonald said after the race. “It was an amazing feeling going up the climb and it was just idling. I didn’t think a horse would come with him, so when that horse came without the rider, I got a little scared.

Golden Pal deflated from the start

It also included Golden Pal, Wesley Ward’s two-time Breeders’ Cup-winning sprinter who was expected to give Nature Strip a front row runner to target. Instead, Golden Pal missed the break when jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was distracted by Mondammej, who was acting outside the gates. He got scratched, but the doors opened before Ortiz was ready.

This took away the deadly gate speed that Golden Pal used to dominate the North American grass sprint. He entered the King’s Stand 6-for-his-last-7. He came out with his third defeat in as many European races, finishing 20 lengths in last place.

Ward has two more runners on Wednesday. He will send Love Reigns in Group 2 Queen Mary, a five furlong sprint for 2-year-old fillies. She won on her Keeneland debut by nearly 10 lengths in April, which opened enough eyes for her to make her a 3/1 favourite.

Ward also sends Seismic Spirit into the listed Windsor Castle. Its prospects aren’t as bright as Love Reigns in its five-stage sprint for 2-year-olds. He is 12/1. Seismic Spirit lost a lead on its special weight debut at Churchill Downs last month.