Nature Strip, with Mark Zahra in the saddle, takes out the McEwen Stakes at Moonee Valley on Saturday. Picture: George Salpigtidis/AAP
Nature Strip, with Mark Zahra in the saddle, takes out the McEwen Stakes at Moonee Valley on Saturday. Picture: George Salpigtidis/AAP

Weir in awe of Nature Strip’s sizzling sprint

DARREN Weir had a blunt message for Nature Strip doubters after the sprinter carved out a course record to win the Group 2 McEwen Stakes (1000m) at Moonee Valley on Saturday - the stopwatch doesn't lie.

Reacting to focus on the winning margin - a half-head over charging Houtzen ($15) - Weir referenced Nature Strip's sizzling early sectionals and overall time of 56.95 secs.

Keen for the sprinter's owners to secure a prized slot in the $13 million The Everest, Weir believes the chestnut will benefit significantly from the run as Shoals, who is assured of an Everest run, finished a distant third.

"Probably from our point of view, I guess the speed that they went, he was going to be found wanting just a smidgen late because he probably just needed it (the run)," Weir said.

"He needed it going at that speed. That will bring him on great. The second horse (Houtzen) is a great horse. It's no slouch and it was charging late. Obviously the time backs it up.

"There'll be people querying the 1200m but with that under his belt and with another solid run in the Moir (Stakes), I think we'll be right."

Weir and jockey Mark Zahra both believe Nature Strip, who started a $1.50 favourite, will be better suited if allowed to sit off the speed.

But concerns over of being trapped inside other runners meant it was necessary to drive Nature Strip through the early stages. He duly clocked 21.01sec between the 800m and 400m.

"Today was about the barrier," Weir said.

Nature Strip held off the fast-finishing Houtzen to win the McEwen Stakes. Picture: AAP
Nature Strip held off the fast-finishing Houtzen to win the McEwen Stakes. Picture: AAP

"Normally we wouldn't rev horses out of the barrier like that but if he didn't use his barrier and go hard and got in behind them, then it becomes messy.

"We wanted to make it simple - use the barrier and try and lead, and he did that.

"The time that he ran, they were going at a strong gallop.

"Look, all you can do is win, I guess, and he got that done."

Weir said Nature Strip's owners would continue to negotiate for one of the two remaining slots in The Everest.

"The owners, during the week, have had interest from a couple of parties," Weir said. "They just said they were hoping to win because it makes them a lot more appealing for them (slot-holders).

Trainer Darren Weir is hopeful Nature Strip can secure a slot in The Everest. Picture: AAP
Trainer Darren Weir is hopeful Nature Strip can secure a slot in The Everest. Picture: AAP

"More than likely, there will be a spot but I've stayed out of that. I've left that to Rod Lyons and the people they've been dealing with.

"Hopefully they're still wanting to go on with that. He's the fastest horse I've trained. Unbelievable horse over half a mile (800m), he's very quick.

"It's exciting and hopefully we can get him to The Everest, but I'm more focused on the Group 1, the 1000m back here (the Moir) and then The Everest after that."



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