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McDonald predicts epic Everest battle

James McDonald anticipates The Everest being fought out by the seasoned campaigners and has narrowed it down to a race in three. Sydney's champion hoop believes his mount Nature Strip, along with arch-rival Eduardo and last year's third placegetter Gytrash, hold the aces in Saturday's $15 million sprint. 

"They're the tough heads and I think that's what we're going to need here," McDonald said. "A fit horse ready to fight out the last hundred with some pretty sturdy customers." 

McDonald regards Nature Strip to be in career-best form, picture sportpix.com.au

With a wet track expected, punters are warming to Nature Strip, who joined Classique Legend at the top of Everest markets on Thursday. The speedster has won six of his nine starts on rain-affected ground and unlike 12 months ago when he had hiccups during his Everest preparation, this campaign has been incident-free. 

Nature Strip heads into Saturday's 1200m race off the back of a sizzling first-up win in the Concorde Stakes and a narrow second to Eduardo in The Shorts. McDonald regards it as career-best form and is in no doubt the multiple Group 1 winner is the horse to beat. 

"I reckon we'll see a pretty special performance from him," he said. "The horse can't look any better, he can't feel any better and his headspace is in the perfect spot. There will be no excuses if he does get beat, but I think whatever beats him will win the race." 

Nature Strip will be lining up in his third Everest after finishing fourth to stablemate Yes Yes Yes in 2019 and seventh to Classique Legend 12 months ago. He is one of two runners for leading trainer Chris Waller, who also saddles up Home Affairs, the only three-year-old in this year's race. 

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