Despite the recent big-name additions to his immense operation, trainer Chris Waller is likely to have just one runner in Saturday week’s Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning – and it probably won’t be Nature Strip.
Waller announced after his top-class colt Lean Mean Machine trialled smartly down the Flemington straight on Friday that he was the stable’s most likely Lightning runner following a minor setback to fellow colt Zousain and with Nature Strip now set to be aimed at the Oakleigh Plate.
Nature Strip steps out for his first 2019 start and his first for Waller in Saturday’s $200,000 G2 Rubiton Stakes at Caulfield, which places the Lightning over 1000 metres seven days later in doubt.
“Obviously, there are some great targets down here in sprint races – it will either be the Oakleigh Plate or the Newmarket,” Waller said from Flemington on Friday morning. “I am yet to speak to the owners in depth.
“Nature Strip has been with us over a week now and he went to Moonee Valley for a gallop on Monday and Damian Lane was aboard and he acquitted himself very well.”
Waller said both Nature Strip and Ringerdingding arrived in great order from Darren Weir’s stables and both made an immediate impression.
“Both horses arrived in very good condition,” he said. “They are very sound and have great attitudes.
“They have settled in well at Flemington and they weren’t sweating up before and after their work, which I think is the best sign to see in a horse, better than seeing how fast they are running in my opinion.”
Waller confirmed that last spring’s Coolmore Stud Stakes placegetter Zousain was also likely to miss the Lightning but was on target for his major spring goal – the Newmarket Handicap.
“He had a slight temperature late last week,” Waller confirmed. “He had a scope yesterday which was clear of any mucus and also clean of blood.
“He had a gallop this (Friday) morning and worked well. He’ll trial Monday. It means the Lightning is doubtful – we won’t say no just yet – but there’s a race at Caulfield a week later and then definitely into the Newmarket.”
Waller might just need the one Lightning runner if Lean Mean Machine can live up to his assessment of the galloper now he’s an autumn three-year-old.
“He’s always been a horse that I thought would just need a little bit more time,” he said.
“He did run third in the Coolmore – narrowly beaten in the spring – and I think he’s come back a stronger horse and for that reason he’s been set for the Newmarket.
“He had a jumpout this morning just to clean his wind ahead of the Lightning in eight days and I just thought the Lightning would be a good race to help keep him sharp so he can step three weeks into the Newmarket at 1200 metres, which I think he will be very effective in.
“I think the Coolmore in the spring is a great form guide and I think he was beaten a neck and it was at the end of a long prep.
“He’s got that Group 1 placing, he’s a Group win himself and he’s a son of Zoustar, a good-looking horse, so if we can get that extra win next to his name with a Group 1 he’s certainly a very expensive stallion.”
Ringerdingding makes his debut for the stable in the G2 Autumn Stakes and while Waller is expecting him to run well, he is conscious the horse will improve with the outing.
“He’s carrying a bit of condition and I’ve spoken to the Weir stable and they thought that he might need the run or at least improve with the run,” he said.
“His class will take him a long way and can certainly be fighting out the finish tomorrow but he’ll certainly improve on that. He’s on an Australian Guineas path.”
Waller has two hopefuls in the first Group 1 of the year, the C.F. Orr Stakes, and he was certainly confident that D’Argento could return to the winner’s list after five winless starts last spring.
“He’s had two trials in Sydney and trialled pretty well,” Waller said. “He’s always been a pretty good horse but he’s had a lot against him.
“He drew wide in the Doncaster and had no luck and in the Randwick Guineas, he drew the outside and had no luck.
“He can win the race (Orr Stakes). Obviously 1400m is right on the short end of his distance range so that’s my only concern but if he jumps and travels well, he’ll let down strongly.”
His other Orr hopeful is the mare Shillelagh: “I was disappointed with the draw (14 of 16) for Shillelagh. She ran in the race last year and got home well.
“Obviously, she runs better at Flemington and The All-Star Mile is an obvious target if she gets enough votes. The other option is the Australian Cup.
“From the draw, she just needs to find some cover and she’ll be ratting home late.”