The Everest 2021: Nature Strip wins as crowds return to NSW racing
As Nature Strip held on to his lead, James McDonald felt like time was standing still as he searched for the winning post.
When asked how long it took to complete the sprint along the Royal Randwick straight, McDonald replied: “You have no idea – it felt like a minute!”
For Tommy Berry on Masked Crusader, it was the opposite feeling. The winning post was coming at him in a rush. And it was too soon.
There could only be one winner and it was Nature Strip and McDonald racing into history in the $15 million The TAB Everest (1200m) Saturday.
Nature Strip’s winning margin was a slender long head. McDonald thought he had hung on until past the post Berry turned to him and asked: “Who got it?”
“It was pretty close, too close for comfort,’’ McDonald said.
“But Nature Strip just showed so much grit and determination – he is a star!”
Nature Strip, the world’s highest-rated sprinter, had finally conquered The Everest.
The striking chestnut had been selected four years in succession for the world’s richest turf race but the race had not been kind to him – he was withdrawn in 2018 due to loss of form, he ran fourth in 2019 behind Yes Yes Yes then faded to finish seventh to Classique Legend last year.
But this was Nature Strip’s time – and it was relief for McDonald who retained the faith after riding him in his previous unplaced Everest runs.
“I have had such a good feeling all week about this horse,’’ McDonald said.
“Anyone who was listening to me I said whatever beats him will win, simple as that, he has been going so well,
“And he is trained by a master in Chris Waller. I can’t believe how he gets his horses right for the big day, he’s a Grand Final performer.’’
But McDonald conceded the race didn’t go to plan. It wasn’t his intention to lead on Nature Strip but the champion jockey wasn’t about to try and harness the gelding’s best asset – his sustained speed.
“It didn’t really pan out the way I thought it would, I didn’t think I’d lead that’s for sure,’’ McDonald said.
“But everyone was sitting up so I just let him be Nature Strip.
“I was quite surprised the only one that was a little bit of a hindrance was his stablemate (Home Affairs) which was frustrating.
“But Nature Strip got into a rhythm real early and it was just like the TJ Smith earlier this year.’’
Nature Strip ($3.70 favourite) held off the late surge of Masked Crusader ($12) to win the world’s richest turf race with Eduardo)($4.20) a half neck away third.
After three years of frustration with Nature Strip had finally won The Everest and confirmed his rating as the world’s best sprinter.
“It is the only one that has been eluding Nature Strip, he’s been a consistent performer all the way through,’’ McDonald said.
“I had goosebumps thinking about this race last night. I truly believed this was my time to shine and the horse’s time to shine.
“I’ve never woken up in the morning and been so confident. I’ve been nervous on him before but not today. He’s the best sprinter in the world.’’
McDonald, 29, has achieved a career ambition with his win in The Everest that complements his 55 career Group 1 wins.
The champion jockey is usually relatively measured even after a big race win but he was very animated before a Randwick crowd that was enjoying the moment as much as him.
“I have never in my life experienced anything like it,’’ McDonald said.
“I don’t think there is a lady or a man over 30 in that crowd and they are going bonkers. It is so good to see – this is awesome.’’
Originally published as The Everest 2021: Jockey James McDonald relives Nature Strip’s epic win
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