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Where does Nature Strip’s Royal Ascot King’s Stand Stakes demolition job rank amongst the all-time great performances of Australian horses campaigning overseas?
Australia’s best horses have a long history of campaigning abroad in the world’s best races, and Nature Strip’s dominant Tuesday King’s Stand stroll was just the latest of many epic performances. Ranking those chapters by their quality is not easy, but like Paul Perry and Choisir in 2003, we’ve given it a go!
Well you didn’t have to wait long to find out that he is, in fact, in! Call it recency bias if you must, but Nature Strip(e?) has powered his way onto this list after an utterly commanding romp in the Group One King’s Stand Stakes.
Plenty of Australian horses have won at Royal Ascot, but none have won quite like this.
🚀🇦🇺 Wow! What a performance from NATURE STRIP!
The Australian raider takes the King's Stand Stakes. pic.twitter.com/rZsJs0qdJQ
— Ascot Racecourse (@Ascot) June 14, 2022
It’s been an interesting journey for the chestnut gelding. Bred for pure speed, he is a product of two McEwen Stakes winners in Nicconi and Strikeline (a race which Nature Strip himself also went on to win), similarly emulating his sire in claiming a G1 Galaxy and G1 Lightning. After cycling through four trainers in his first 12 starts, it wasn’t until a shift to the stable of Chris Waller that Nature Strip’s trademark raw speed was converted into sustained power.
This devastating performance Waller’s seven-year-old ranks him ahead of all bar one other Australian Royal Ascot winner (and just who might that be..? Read on!).
And as a gelding clearly still enjoying his racing, there might yet be room for Nature Strip’s legend to further grow. With time, that widening margin and display of imperious acceleration may still come to be viewed as the best ever performance by an Aussie overseas.
This win on foreign soil – in front of a reported 164,000 racegoers – pretty much sums up the glorious career of Better Loosen Up. For when Mick Clarke and the small bay gelding turned a horse race into a dogfight, they were rarely bested.
Produced with a run at the top of the straight, ‘Better’ somehow simultaneously looked both the winner, and a horse who’d be lucky to scrape into a placing after peaking on his run. But with Coecothes inside him and Ode out, Better Loosen Up just kept coming, sticking his head out on the post to register a famous victory for Australia in a race of monumental prestige. Clarke’s liberal use of the shillelagh, appears to have been a winning factor, too.
Nature Strip continued a proud tradition for Australian sprinters at Royal Ascot in taking the King’s Stand Stakes on Tuesday. But that path trodden by he and other past Australian winners like Miss Andretti, Scenic Blast, Takeover Target and even the great Black Caviar was brutally forged by a burly front-running Newcastle-trained chestnut who stunned the world in 2003.
Whilst some might argue that Black Caviar’s performance in 2012 was better – injured, far from her best, placated too early by Luke Nolen’s dropped hands – Choisir’s King’s Stand performance stands above all because it so comprehensively broke the mould. This simply wasn’t the done thing – an Australian horse having the temerity to even turn up at Royal Ascot, let alone brain them from the front under 60.5kg, and at 25/1. And Paul Perry’s big block of a horse did it twice, returning four days later to defeat Airwave and break the course record in the Golden Jubilee Stakes.
Choisir not only beat some seriously good horses, he also broke open the whole overseas concept for Australian-trained gallopers. His legacy would be even further entrenched by his spectacular son Starspangledbanner, who emulated his great sire with victory in the Jubilee Stakes of 2010.
Scooped up and plonked in a boat, shipped across the Pacific, first start in America, first start out of barriers, first start on dirt, lead-in hampered by a cracked hoof, world’s richest race. And then the ‘Big Red Train of the Antipodes’ engaged the pistons in the back stretch, deep and circling, and the race was over in a few giant strides.
There’s not much left to say about the Australian turf’s greatest legend, but when a horse with Phar Lap’s credentials registers what could only be regarded as a career peak performance, you better believe it was a good run.
Given the preponderance of outstanding winners in the list above, it would perhaps seem illogical to attach the ‘best overseas performance of all time’ tag to a horse that ran second.
But I dare anyone to watch the 1973 Grand National and still walk away questioning whether Crisp’s epic effort is worthy of top billing. That it occurred in one of the world’s most storied races known as ‘the ultimate test of a horse’s courage’ adds to the legend of ‘The Black Kangaroo’. (Also, yes Crisp was ultimately trained in England for these races but for the purposes of this list and for his extraordinary bravery in defeat, we’re still claiming him!).
Joint-9/1 favourite with Red Rum, Crisp – carrying topweight of 12 stone and conceding 23 pounds to his co-fancy – jumped mightily throughout, bowling along in a race all of his own and demonstrating absolutely no intention of stopping.
For those that might not have seen it, or those that want to relive one of the most dramatic contests in horse racing history, here it is. Pure racing theatre:
Exhausted but forging on with ever-shortening strides, Red Rum looming, you can’t help but feel that Crisp deserved better that day at Aintree.
The fact that the horse who so cruelly ran him down turned out to be one of the all time great ‘chasing champions added to the merit of Crisp’s performance, with Red Rum returning the following year to again win the Grand National, this time hefting 12 stone of his own. He ran second in ’75 and ’76, then won it again in ’77.
As a side note Red Rum was trained by Ginger McCain, who like Takeover Target’s trainer Joe Janiak also drove taxis to supplement his income. ‘The Knowledge’, it would appear, extends to preparing thoroughbred warhorses for battle on the world stage.
Speaking of Joe Janiak and Takeover Target, this remarkable sprinter – plain, tough and simply staggering – falls victim to being too consistently good, winning in too many exotic locales, to register one singly defining standout performance.
Should he still have found a place in the top five? Maybe. When looking purely at an overall body of work, you certainly couldn’t go past Takeover Target when it comes to Aussie racehorses on the world stage.
A sprinting force throughout Australia, Takeover Target also won in England (G2 King’s Stand), Japan (G1 Sprinters Stakes), Singapore (G1 KrisFlyer) and Western Australia (it’s almost another country, right?). What a ripping racehorse he was.
There are so many horses deserving of a place in the final five, and one feels obliged to acknowledge them all. Special mentions however must go to the great Strawberry Road, winner of Group Ones in France and Germany and second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
To Shannon, who eventually found his feet after a shaky start in America and proceeded to embark on a golden run in 1948 that included the Hollywood Gold Cup, Argonout Handicap, San Francisco Handicap and Golden Gate Handicap. The best of the lot was the Fortyniner Stakes, when Shannon smashed the clock to become the first horse in America to crack two minutes, setting an American record and equaling the world mark (obviously no longer Australian-trained but still worthy of mention).
Tony Vasil’s Elvstroem, Dubai Duty Free winner and Group One-placed at Longchamp. Haradasun and So You Think, again no longer prepared by their Australian trainers but flying the Aussie flag nonetheless.
There was Chautauqua’s impossible Champion’s Sprint win, Buffering and Ortensia’s destructive Dubai romps and Falvelon blazing a trail of his own. Champions all.
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