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Everest hopefuls set for exciting clash in The Shorts

The Shorts is shaping as a mini-Everest with the best sprinters in training set to clash at Royal Randwick on Saturday.

Nature Strip, the world’s highest-rated sprinter, and the brilliant Masked Crusader could be surprise starters in a star-studded Group 2 $500,000 The Shorts (1100m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.

Hall of Fame trainer Chris Waller said he is “very tempted” to start Nature Strip with race jockey James McDonald on standby for the ride.

Masked Crusader, who is challenging Nature Strip for Everest favouritism, has also been nominated by Team Hawkes for The Shorts.

This sets up a compelling sprint showdown between Nature Strip, Masked Crusader and the likes of Eduardo, Gytrash, Lost And Running and Rothfire, all certain starters in the $15 million The TAB Everest (1200m) at Royal Randwick on October 16.

Nature Strip is being prepared for his third The Everest assault but he has not previously had a lead-up run in The Shorts so this could be a slight departure from Waller’s usual spring race program for the super sprinter.

“I’m very tempted to run him in The Shorts,” Waller told The Daily Telegraph.

“If we do run (this Saturday) that would mean he would go straight to The Everest. I always like to be one step ahead and I don’t like to be playing catch-up.

“So, if we were to run in The Shorts then Nature Strip is exactly where he needs to be going towards The Everest.

“If we don’t run in The Shorts, then he will trial before the Premiere Stakes (October 2).”

Nature Strip is among 12 entries for The Shorts and has been installed as the $3 favourite in early TAB Fixed Odds betting.

Masked Crusader is pressing at $3.50 then Lost And Running and Rothfire at $5 with Eduardo rated a $6 chance.

John Hawkes, also a Hall of Fame trainer, confirmed Masked Crusader is back at their Rosehill stables after a dynamic first-up win in The Heath Stakes at Caulfield last month.

“At this stage, Masked Crusader is definitely running in The Shorts,” Hawkes said. “He’s come through his first-up win very well.”

As expected, defending Everest champ Classique Legend was not included among The Shorts entries with trainer Les Bridge confirming the big grey will barrier trial again before resuming in the Premiere Stakes.

Waller and McDonald also team up with champion mare Verry Elleegant as she chases her ninth Group 1 race in the $1 million George Main Stakes (1600m) on Saturday.

There are 16 nominations for the George Main including Group 1 winners Cascadian, Kolding, Hungry Heart, Lion’s Roar, Mo’unga, Shout The Bar and Think It Over.

Verry Elleegant is early favourite at $2.30 ahead of last start Chelmsford Stakes winner Think It Over at $4.50 with Cascadian and Mo’unga at $6.

Meanwhile, Kolding has been allocated topweight of 58kg ahead of unlikely starter Zaaki (57.5kg) for the Group 1 $1.5 million Epsom Handicap (1600m) at Royal Randwick on October 2.

Kolding is attempting a second Epsom win after his 2019 triumph while last year’s winner, Probabeel, is the highest-weighted mare in the race with 56.5kg.

Think It Over has 57kg, early Epsom favourite Mo’unga is on 56.5kg and Doncaster Mile winner Cascadian has 56kg.

There are five three-year-olds in the Epsom nominations and all have been allocated the 48kg minimum including Group 1 winners Captivant and Converge.

Originally published as Nature Strip and Masked Crusader in stellar sprint showdown in The Shorts at Randwick

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