After a solid result last week, Sydney racing takes a dip behind an exceptional Moonee Valley card.
The Everest may never be the biggest race in Australia, but it has quickly become the most exciting.
We are lucky it has been launched in a time where there was no Black Caviar, and an even group of the best sprinters in the land can mostly lay claim to the big prize. Sydney has always been the racing city of hype and razzle-dazzle, and this race has certainly entrenched that view.
1. NATURE STRIP
Jockey: James McDonald
Trainer: Chris Waller
Nature Strip has been crowned Australia’s best sprinter for both of the last two seasons – he’s won two TJ Smith’s at Randwick, a VRC Classic and a Lightning down the Flemington straight, a Moir Stakes at Moonee Valley and a Galaxy at Rosehill. But he is yet to claim an Everest despite two attempts, finishing fourth in 2019 and seventh last year.
He returned in absolute cruise control in the Concorde Stakes first-up, towelling up Wild Ruler and Trekking over his favoured 1000m. Stepping up to 1100m next time in The Shorts, he had Eduardo for company up front and let that horse worry him out of it when finishing second.
Nature Strip’s two TJ Smith wins at the Randwick 1200m have been on soft and heavy, while his Everest runs have been on the good, and how the track presents on Saturday may be the key to his chances.
He’ll jump and run from a wide gate, following Eduardo who is drawn two barriers to his inside. How these two speed demons fare in that first 400m will shape this race.
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
Trainer: Les Bridge
The 2020 Everest winner is back to defend his title, but has taken an unusual path to get here. He couldn’t have been more impressive in letting down powerfully in last year’s edition, two and a half lengths to the good over Bivouac. Yes, we haven’t seen him in Australia since.
A trip to Hong Kong followed that Everest win, where he trialled unimpressively and ran even worse when he eventually hit Sha Tin in December. Back under the care of Les Bridge, he has trialled three times leading into this event, winning all of them and turning some heads doing it, but now has to try and win this race first-up.
Only one horse has won the Newmarket Handicap first-up in the last 100 years, it was always seen as too tough to take on Australia’s best sprinters in a tough 1200m assignment without at least one run under the belt. Surely The Everest falls under a similar category.
Jockey: Nash Rawiller
Trainer: Joe Pride
Eduardo has proven himself to be a remarkable horse, an eight-year-old that has only had 22 starts, and somehow keeps getting better with age. He ran third in an Oakleigh Plate at only his sixth start, so the talent was always there, and he’s started to fulfil it since being transferred to Joe Pride 18 months ago.
His record under Pride is 10: 6-1-1, and twice this year he’s taken on Nature Strip at his own game and beaten him. It is important to note that those wins were at 1000m and 1100m, and Nature Strip has beat him home both times they’ve clashed at 1200m
Eduardo strikes this race second-up after beating Nature Strip, Gytrash, Masked Crusader and Lost and Running first-up, and has won four of his five races in calendar 2021 including two Group 1’s.
He’s an impressive sprinter in peak form, but still has questions marks about him at 1200m against the very, very best. And he won’t get much of a breather in the first half of the race with Nature Strip on his flanks.
Jockey: Jason Collett
Trainer: Gordan Richards and Damien Moyle
Gytrash, representing South Australia, is one of six horses from last year’s Everest looking to turn the tables on Classique Legend. He finished third in that event, and looks to be in career best form as a six-year-old, having continued to improve over the last two seasons.
It’s important to note that Gytrash’s only Group 1 win came over 1000m in the Lightning last year, but he has placed four times at Group 1 level at 1200m. Many will stay he isn’t as strong at that distance as shorter trips, but his win at 1300m in the Winners Stakes after The Everest last year went some way to dispel that. It was on a heavy track though, which is to his ultimate liking.
Gytrash was the unlucky run in The Shorts first-up behind Nature Strip and Eduardo, with many good judges saying he would have won with clear running. His best is good enough, if the track is wet he comes even more into it, and from barrier one won’t have to spend any more petrol than is necessary in the run.
Jockey: Josh Parr
Trainer: James Cummings
Trekking is the warhorse of the field, with the seven-year-old Godolphin gelding fronting up for his third Everest. He ran in the Golden Slipper at two, has won a Stradbroke and a Goodwood, and run well in Group 1 races all over the country.
First up he was three lengths behind Nature Strip, and second up he was one and a half lengths behind Wild Ruler and The Inferno. His form is solid, but he’s only won one out of his last 16 starts, and this is harder than any of those.
Trekking ran third at $31 in the 2019 Everest, fourth last year at $16, and will be around the $34 mark this time around. It’s fair to say he’s not quite the horse he was a year or two ago, and it’s hard to think he can elevate himself into contention again.
Jockey: Tommy Berry
Trainer: Michael, Wayne and John Hawkes
Masked Crusader is the enigma wrapped in a riddle of this year’s Everest field. Running around at benchmark level this time last year, he launched himself into the elite in the autumn earlier in 2021 winning the Manikato Stakes at Moonee Valley and running second to Nature Strip in the TJ Smith.
He took all honours first-up at Caulfield coming from last at the 250m to beat a handy field with 60kg’s, didn’t come on out wide on a shifting track in The Shorts behind Eduardo and Nature Strip, before winning with all sorts of authority in the Premiere Stakes two weeks ago.
It’s all but certain that Masked Crusader will step slowly from barrier nine and be forced to take up his customary position at the tail of the field. Can he give 11 of the best sprinters in the world a head start in The Everest and mow them all down? The short history of the race says no.
Jockey: Tim Clark
Trainer: Peter and Paul Snowden
Wild Ruler is something of the fresh sprinter on the scene when it comes to The Everest given there are 11 older horses engaged, but he is the only four-year-old.
He was tried once at Group 1 level as a two-year-old, once against his own age group at three in the spring, and then twice against older horses in the autumn. He never threatened in any of these attempts at the highest level, but a couple of them were on soft tracks which isn’t his go.
Wild Ruler ran honestly first-up in the Concorde, splitting Nature Strip and Trekking, but made the most of the run of the race when winning the Group 1 Moir Stakes second-up at Moonee Valley. He’ll be better at 1200m than 1000m, and he did have The Inferno and Trekking (again) behind him there.
He’s drawn awkwardly in 11, but may try and cross to sit behind the blazing speed. If the track is soft or worse he’ll drift in the market, and is rightly an outsider.
Jockey: Regan Bayless
Trainer: Cliff Brown
What an interesting horse The Inferno is, having won eight of his first nine starts in Singapore before trainer Cliff Brown decided to return to Australia and bring his star with him. The word is that a main driver for coming back was to get this horse into The Everest.
He was only a quarter fit when resuming at Caulfield in August, and would have been 100-1 to get an Everest slot off that. But when he was seen again in the McEwen Stakes, after a brilliant jump out, he put himself on the Everest radar – he gave two Group 1 winners, September Run and Portland Sky, windburn as he rounded them up from last and put them away with authority.
Last time out, he was again back to last in a 1000m race, before finishing full of running to just fall short of nailing Wild Ruler in the Moir. If ever a horse is going to be more suited to Randwick and 1200m rather than Moonee Valley and 1000m, it’s this one.
Barrier 12 is a steadier, and he will likely only have Masked Crusader behind him in the run. It may have cruelled his chances of winning, but he is certain to finish powerfully.
Jockey: Jean Van Overmemeire
Trainer: Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott
Embracer was the last horse selected for The Everest after the slot-holder’s initial pick Rothfire was spelled following on from a disappointing run in the Premiere Stakes.
This horse has never been tested at Group 1 level, but has been running honestly this campaign without winning in Group 2s and 3s.
Surely there were better horses than this one to pick from to replace Rothfire, he’s simply nowhere near up to it.
10.LOST AND RUNNING
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
Trainer: John O’Shea
Lost and Running has long been one of the x-factor horses for this Everest, having secured a slot early in proceedings thanks to having put together some big wins progressing through the grades in autumn.
He’s only had nine starts as a five-year-old and his last two starts before this campaign were wins in benchmark 88 and Listed grade. It’s a huge step-up from that to an Everest, and he has frankly looked outclassed in two starts this prep – beaten nine lengths behind Eduardo and Nature Strip first-up, and fourth behind Masked Crusader, Standout and Embracer in the Premiere.
Lost and Running has been ridiculously short odds all the way through the early Everest betting, and is finally at a more appropriate quote.
Jockey: Sam Clipperton
Trainer: Anthony Cummings
Libertini is back in The Everest after a moderate performance last year when she drew the widest barrier and was never really in the race.
She was a well backed commodity that day though, $9 into $6, and the start before she had belted Classique Legend and Nature Strip. The key to her that day was that she was first-up, when she has often been at her most devastating, and that’s how she strikes the race this time.
As said with Classique Legend, it’s hard to imagine beating all of these race-fit horses when first-up in this kind of race, so that has to be a knock. Her record in Group 1 races when finding firm ground (three placings from three starts) says she has the talent on her day, but if the track is soft or worse then you can write your own ticket.
Jockey: Glen Boss
Trainer: Chris Waller
It’s great to have a three-year-old in The Everest again after not seeing one last year, and it can’t be forgotten that the last one we saw was 2019 winner Yes Yes Yes. That colt was also in the Coolmore slot, trained by Chris Waller and ridden by Glen Boss, so all parties are looking for history to repeat.
Home Affairs has only had one start at the Randwick 1200m in his five race career, where he ran a half-length third behind Anamoe – it’s hard to ask for much better form given what that colt has done in the last 12 months.
He resumed in the Heritage Stakes at Rosehill first-up with 59kg’s and gave his rivals a galloping lesson from the front. Behind him that day was Paulele, who has been the most consistent measuring stick for three-year-old sprinters this season.
Every indication is that Home Affairs is a serious horse already, despite his inexperience. Chris Waller isn’t noted for rushing his young horses either, so you can rest assured this one is ready to mix it with the big boys.
He likes to push forward and surely will here with the light weight – can he lead Eduardo and Nature Strip? It’s unlikely they’ll try, with Boss sure to camp in just behind them and hoping they overdo it.
The Everest has arguably become the second biggest race in the country after only four editions, and with the Caulfield Cup on in Melbourne at the same time, this is now the marquee day on the Australian racing calendar. When full crowds were allowed in the not-too-distant past, the atmosphere at both tracks was electric in that hour when both races were held.
With Nature Strip and Eduardo drawn in the second half of the field, the speed will be on as those two cross to take up the running. Eduardo should find the rail with Nature Strip to his outside.
Embracer and Lost and Running will make use of their inside barriers to push forward behind them, while Home Affairs should end up with the box seat. Wild Ruler probably pushes forward from gate 11, and may be stuck three wide.
Gytrash will hold his rails position in midfield, Trekking should tuck in behind him, with Libertini and Classique Legend to their outside. That will leave The Inferno second last and hoping Classique Legend takes him into the race, while Masked Crusader will see them all and follow that pair.
1.Gytrash 2.The Inferno 3.Home Affairs 4.Masked Crusader