Sir Steve Hansen's horse destroys opposition to win £500,000 race

James McDonald celebrates after winning the King's Stand Stakes race during Royal Ascot, with...
James McDonald celebrates after winning the King's Stand Stakes race during Royal Ascot, with owner Steve Hansen in the background. Photo: Getty
Champion New Zealand horsemen James McDonald and Chris Waller were on top of the racing world overnight when Nature Strip destroyed his opposition in the £500,000 (NZ$964,365) King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.

And in doing so they gave part-owner Sir Steve Hansen a sporting thrill to compare with winning a Rugby World Cup.

The Sydney-based sprinter stunned the horse racing world with a brutal display of sustained speed galloping to not only have the five furlong race (approx 1000m) under control at the 300m mark but then extend his lead with every stride to thrash his international opponents.

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, were in attendance along with other royals.

While Nature Strip has already won all of Australia's major sprint races and was the second favourite, the ease of the victory left Ascot racegoers stunning and even his connections shaking their heads.

Trainer Waller and jockey McDonald have combined to win both the Melbourne Cup and the A$14million Everest in Sydney in the last 12 months but the proud Kiwis admitted the win in the early hours of this morning was different because of the unique challenges overcome.

"I love winning big races anywhere and it is a privilege to have won races the Cup and the Everest but to win here is different because we aren't in our back yard," says 30-year-old McDonald.

"So much can go wrong when you travel horses but Chris's whole team has done an amazing job, especially Charlie Duckworth (stable foreman).

"When I got legged up today they told me he was ready to go and he felt it. He travelled up to them that easily but when I let him go, he went to a new level.

"To be that far in front in one of the biggest races of the week at Royal Ascot, it was surreal. I loved it," said McDonald, who was riding only his second ever Royal Ascot winner.

Nature Strip's demolition job was Waller's first at the Royal meeting and left him beaming albeit surprised.

"We knew he was ready but you don't expect them to win like that, not on this stage," said the former Foxton boy.

"It is very satisfying and I'm proud of everybody involved but I am also very proud of the horse." The victory was not only the culmination of a perfectly planned Northern Hemisphere raid but a far longer and more complicated plan hatched nearly three years ago.

When Nature Strip burst on to the racing scene he was a flying machine often unable to control his energy expenditure and Waller realised if he was going to fulfil the gelding's full potential they were going to need to teach him to steady and take a sit in races to give him an extra string to his bow.

That opened the stable to criticism from those who live by the let-fast-horses-run-fast mantra but Waller, McDonald and the trackwork riders were willing to lose a few battles to win the war.

The Nature Strip who turned up at Ascot today, a controllable ball of fast twitch muscle fibres wrapped in a calm demeanour, was a horse who deserves to be called the world's best sprinter.

Watching in disbelief was Hansen, who along with his wife Lady Tash watched the race with fellow Kiwi owners and lifelong mates Peter Kean and Paddy Harrison.

"I have been lucky enough to have been involved in some pretty special sporting moments obviously but this is a different feeling than, say, winning a World Cup because you have no control over the result," said Hansen.

"You hope for the best but I have owned horses since I was in my 20s and you know so much can go wrong.

"So I was nervous. But for him to win like that, that easily, was pretty incredible. You get the same rush as winning a big rugby game, the same adrenalin but you also get to do it with lifelong mates.

"That is the great thing about racing, it can give you moments like this."

While Nature Strip has the option of backing up in the million pound Platinum Jubilee Stakes at Ascot on Saturday, Waller says that is unlikely as the big horse has won the race he was set for and still has rich targets at home to return to.

Waller and McDonald also have stablemate Home Affairs, part-owned by New Zealand Bloodstock supremo Sir Peter Vela, entered for the Platinum Jubilee for which he is likely to start favourite considering he beat a luckless Nature Strip in Melbourne two starts ago.

Should the Kiwi horsemen complete the double and cap a year of domination never seen before by a trainer and jockey from this part of the world it should nudge them closer to getting the respect they deserve as two of New Zealand's sporting elite.

-By Michael Guerin in London

 

 

 

Local trusted journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Star Media journalists and photographers continue to report local stories that matter everyday - yours.

For more than 152 years our journalists have provided Cantabrians with local news that can be trusted. It’s more important now than ever to keep Cantabrians connected.

As our advertising has fallen during the pandemic, support from you our reader is crucial.

You can help us continue to provide local news you can trust simply by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter