He used to coach the best rugby team in the world. These days, he shares in the ownership of the world’s best sprinter.
All Blacks legend Sir Steve Hansen has retired as coach of the New Zealand team and can devote more time to his other sporting passion, horse racing.
Hansen is a part-owner of super sprinter Nature Strip, the hot favourite for the Group 3 $160,000 TAB Concorde Stakes (1000m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Unfortunately, Hansen won’t have the opportunity to be trackside to watch the Chris Waller-trained Nature Strip due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Previously, his role as All Blacks coach also kept him away for many of the chestnut’s big race wins.
“I did see Nature Strip win his first Group 1, The Galaxy at Rosehill and that was a great day,’’ Hansen told The Daily Telegraph.
“But when The Everest was on last year I was in Japan for the World Cup with the All Blacks. The day he won the TJ Smith Stakes in April, there was no crowds due to coronavirus.
“We have it (COVID-19) back a bit in New Zealand but not in the South Island where I live. I will be watching Nature Strip’s race at home, we do get great coverage of Australian racing over here.’’
Hansen retired as coach of the All Blacks after they won the bronze medal at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
During his tenure in charge of the world’s most famous rugby side, Hansen coached them to 93 wins from 107 games for a win ratio of 86 per cent including the 2015 World Cup.
So, how does watching racing’s excitement machine, Nature Strip, winning Group 1 races compare to coaching the All Blacks to Test and World Cup glory?
“They are totally different,’’ Hansen said.
“When you are part of a team and you are the coach, you have premier control over what happens.
“But when you own shares in a racehorse, you have no control. There is always a huge build-up of anticipation before a race and then in about a minute it is all over.
“Emotionally, either you are still on a real high because you have gone real good or you haven’t gone any good and you are on a bit of a downer but that is what makes racing such a great sport.’’
Hansen revealed he has had a lifelong interest in thoroughbred racing as his father, Des, was a successful owner-trainer.
“I grew up wanting to be a jockey – but I out-grew that!’’ he said.
“Over the years, I’ve had quite a few horses but New Zealand racing is not going that ‘good’, I don’t think, stake money-wise.
“So, I got talked into taking some shares in a horse called Theanswermyfriend, which is the same syndicate as Nature Strip. When the shares in Nature Strip came up I took them, and I’ve got shares in four or five others as well.’’
Nature Strip doesn’t quite boast the winning strike-rate of the All Blacks but with 14 wins from 23 starts, he is acknowledged as the best sprinter in training.
Hansen might be regarded as one of the finest minds in world rugby but his racing intellect is also without question and it was obvious during this interview he thoroughly enjoys talking about his powerhouse six-year-old chestnut.
“Everyone says Nature Strip is an enigma, either he goes well or he doesn’t,’’ Hansen said. “But he has only been out of the first four (placings) twice in his career.’’
Nature Strip has won four Group 1 races and more than $5 million prizemoney in his race career so far but Hansen also pointed out some of the sprinter’s outstanding efforts in defeat.
“His fourth in The Everest last year was a good run when he did all the work in front,’’ said Hansen of Nature Strip’s effort behind Yes Yes Yes which established a track record 1m 7.32s for the Randwick 1200m.
“Even when he ran fourth in the Doomben 10,000 last year, he sat five wide the whole way, it was a brilliant run.’’
But Hansen is also very aware that Nature Strip can be his own worst enemy by over-racing, particularly at the start of a race campaign.
“When he is fresh, he can go a bit hard,’’ Hansen admitted.
“His race down the straight (fourth to Gytrash in the Lightning Stakes when resuming earlier this year) he was just too fresh. He is starting to relax better now he is older, he is starting to work it out.’’
Nature Strip produced the most complete performance of his race career so far at his most recent start when he travelled nicely under James McDonald, leading throughout to dominate a crack field of sprinters in the TJ Smith Stakes during The Championships back in April.
There were plans to take on the world at Royal Ascot in June but the global pandemic ended those ambitions.
Hansen hopes missing the opportunity to race at Royal Ascot will have Nature Strip primed for his “Grand Final”, the $15 million The TAB Everest (1200m) at Royal Randwick on October 17.
“I think this is the ideal preparation for The Everest and everything has gone right so far – touch wood that continues to do so,’’ Hansen said.
“Chris (Waller) and his team are magicians and the horse’s two barrier going into Saturday (Concorde Stakes) have been very good.
“I catch up with Chris every now and again, he is a good man, loves the All Blacks, too, but he doesn’t build Nature Strip up too much.
“He’s too smart for that, he just says the horse is going well and he’s happy with him. If Chris Waller is happy, I’m happy!”