Global Clash On Tap As Aussie Nature Strip Meets America's Golden Pal At Royal Ascot - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Global Clash On Tap As Aussie Nature Strip Meets America’s Golden Pal At Royal Ascot

Wesley Ward and his Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Golden Pal

The most keenly anticipated head-to-head of Royal Ascot week comes on day one when Chris Waller's outstanding Australian sprinter Nature Strip meets Wesley Ward's dual Breeders' Cup winner Golden Pal in a truly global King's Stand Stakes, which carries prize money of £500,000 (US$608,000) and is the first sprint race of the 2022 QIPCO British Champions Series.

The King's Stand Stakes (G1) is also a Win and You're In qualifier for the US$1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1).

Nature Strip has earned just short of £10m (US$12.17m) in Australia, where his eight Group 1 wins include the TJ Smith Stakes three times, as well as the Lightning Stakes and last year's Everest, which is not graded but is the richest turf race in the world.

He is the best sprinter in the world according to the Longines World's Best Racehorse rankings, but speed king Ward might not agree as he has long insisted that Golden Pal is “a once in a lifetime horse” and “the fastest of the fast”.

Neither Waller nor Ward will want to contemplate defeat, but there will also be considerable interest in King's Lynn, the Queen's first runner in this Platinum Jubilee Royal Ascot and a recent Group 2 winner of Haydock's Temple Stakes.

Waller, who saddled Winx for a record 33 successive wins and won last year's Melbourne Cup with Verry Elleegant, has long been itching to bring Nature Strip to Royal Ascot, but he has twice been thwarted by pandemic restrictions. He is hoping it is third time lucky and believes Nature Strip has what it takes to emulate some of the great Australian sprinters who won at Royal Ascot in a golden spell bookended by Choisir in 2003 and Black Caviar in 2012.

Waller has based Nature Strip and his Platinum Jubilee hope Home Affairs in what he describes as “horse heaven” with Charlie Hills and he has been delighted at how well the pair have relaxed and acclimatized.

Brazen Beau, his only previous Royal Ascot runner, was narrowly beaten by Ward's Undrafted in the 2015 Diamond Jubilee, but Waller took plenty of positives home from the experience. He said: “We learned from the Brazen Beau trip that it would be achievable to win a race here one day. We almost pulled it off and we'll try and get it right this time.

“We are fully aware of Ascot every year and we want to bring the best, which is not always easy to do. We've got horses with the right credentials this year, and it fits in well for both horses. In Australia there aren't many boxes left to tick for Nature Strip, as he's won everything there in terms of the feature sprints, and it's just a great experience for the ownership group, my stable, and my team.

“They did their first piece of fast work in two weeks when they galloped four furlongs at Ascot on Friday. They just needed a bit of stimulation, and I was pretty happy with what they did. There's no room for error here and having come all of this way they need to be familiar with the surroundings so that they don't fall apart on raceday.

“Nature Strip has really matured into a foolproof horse. He was a little bit hit or miss in his early career as he used to charge and race too fiercely. Through maturity we've managed to harness that and he's now racing more tractably, which I think is important as we've found that if you go flat out over 1000 meters you'll come undone.”

He added: “It's always hard when you are coming from the other side of the world, but it sounds like Golden Pal is very quick. But what Nature Strip and Home Affairs have is that they are good straight track horses, so they only need to replicate their Australian form to be capable of fighting out the finish with the best in the world. I think it will be a tough 1000 metres, and probably more like an Australian 1100 or 1200, which is probably his perfect distance.

“Royal Ascot is something unique and it will all be about which horse copes with the occasion and the pressure of the race. I doubt Golden Pal will have been under the pressure he is about to be under, with the same applying to our horse as well. These races make champions and talking points.”

Ward, who added America to the King's Stand honors board when Lady Aurelia came home clear in 2017, is “very excited” about Golden Pal's prospects, despite defeats on both previous starts in England.

He said: “He's a very special horse and he's shown that in his races. I think what separates this guy is that he is very quick out of the gates, goes fast early, and just keeps going. Most sprinters that go as fast as him can't maintain that speed.

“He's been beaten twice in England, but I'm excited to have another try. In the Norfolk Stakes I think he ran very well and it was a little bit of jockey error, as Andrea (Atzeni) was told to sit and wait and wait but he made his move way too soon and gave The Lir Jet a chance to come back at him.

“After the Nunthorpe we were searching for an answer but found no physical issues. I wasn't concerned about his draw, but he was coming off a resounding win at Saratoga and York might have been too close to such a powerful performance. Frankie (Dettori) took a pretty good hold of him, and that may have restricted his airway a little, but that's just reaching for excuses.”

The international challenge also includes last month's Longchamp Group 3 winner Ponntos, who will be a first Czech-trained Royal Ascot runner, plus Logo Hunter and Mooneista from Ireland, but there would surely be no more popular winner than King's Lynn, on whose shoulders rest all hopes of an opening day Royal winner.

King's Lynn enjoyed little luck when running twice at the meeting 12 months ago, but he was beaten barely three lengths when seventh in the King's Stand and only half a length when third in the Wokingham. He comes here at the top of his form, but plenty will be fancying Twilight Calls, who was beaten only a head at Haydock, to turn the tables.

Twilight Calls' trainer Henry Candy has his team in good form and said: “I think he's going in the right direction and he possibly has as good a chance as any of the home team. He's learned his job and he looks good.

“He may have been a little unlucky at Haydock but he's a hold up horse and so very much subject to misfortune like that. I thought it was marginal, but Adam (Kirby, jockey) was spitting blood. A fast run race ought to suit him.”

The Nunthorpe winner Winter Power, a really speedy five-furlong specialist, was down the field in the Haydock race but much better is expected here.

Charlie Appleby's Blue Point beat the brilliant Battaash both times when winning the King's Stand in both 2018 and 2019. Appleby is excited at being involved in such an international event with both Man Of Promise and Lazuli and said: “Man of Promise is going into the race fresh and well, which is key for him. He's a good solid horse and I feel that track and trip are going to suit him.

“This has been Lazuli's target since he won the Blue Point Sprint over the five at Ascot. He's a good old-fashioned sprinter, with a big backend on him, and he's got a lot of natural pace.”

Charlie Hills also runs two. His Khaadem beat Existent and Saint Lawrence in Newmarket's Palace House Stakes last time, while Equilateral was second to Battaash in the 2020 King's Stand but has been off for 444 days.

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