A Group 1 victory still eludes Nature Strip but not so trainer Mat Ellerton, who collected his third Oakleigh Plate when Booker surged late to win.
Beaten less than half a length in the race last year, Booker ($21 to $18) burst through the pack from a midfield position to score in the $500,000 race by three-quarters of a length from the three-year-old Encryption ($19), with Eduardo ($5) running third at just his sixth race start.
Ellerton, who trains in partnership with his cousin Simon Zahra at Flemington, said the stable had long had a good record in the race and after a throat problem shortened Booker's spring campaign, he set the four-year-old for the race first-up.
"We had a chequered spring with her - she had a minor throat problem early in the spring but we've been really plain sailing this prep and she came into this race really well," Ellerton said.
The stable will now consider a Newmarket Handicap for Booker.
Booker and Dean Yendall, picture Quentinjlang.com
"I sort of kicked myself, I ran in it last year but this might have changed our minds," she said. "She will make her way to Sydney, maybe Brisbane and Adelaide, as there are good races for her everywhere."
The victory registered Ellerton's 17th career Group 1 victory. He had previously scored in the Oakleigh Plate with Miss Kournikova (2001) and River Dove (2003) and he said Booker compared well physically at least with both those winners.
"She's bigger and stronger than both of them. Miss Kournikova was one of the more talented horses I've ever trained but she just wasn't sound. River Dove won it as a four-year-old and this one's done it as well," he said.
The victory was yet another triumph for breeders and owners Barrie and Midge Griffiths, whose best-ever mare Mannerism was honoured earlier in the day with the running of the Mannerism Stakes.
Griffiths paid $230,000 for Booker as a yearling and a half brother by Starspangledbanner will also be offered at the upcoming Inglis Premier Yearling sale.
Sarah Zschoke said she was very proud of the inexperienced Eduardo, who held on for third place to record the young trainer's first Group 1 placing. Eduardo was first to challenge Nature Strip but just as he got past that galloper, the swoopers arrived.
"He ran really well. He looked like he was in the position to win but those other came late," she said. "He'll definitely go to the Newmarket now and he'll get his chance at the weights again."
Brian Park, rider of Eduardo ($5), praised his tough on-pace effort to hold down third position throughout after jumping from the outside barrier.
"I thought it was a great run," Park said. "He just got on his wrong leg on the home turn and he didn't corner too well but that comes with experience - it was only his sixth race today."
Nature Strip wound up in 10th place but jockey Damian Lane couldn't offer any excuses.
"You've got to say he was disappointing," Lane said.
"He didn't begin well but he mustered speed and got travelling into a good rhythm.
"I was pretty confident coming to the 600-metre mark but soon after that I knew I was a beaten horse."
Booker wins the Oakleigh Plate! Superb ride from Dean Yendall.— 7HorseRacing 🐎 (@7horseracing) February 23, 2019
Super win to a wonderful mare.
Speed was on early with Nature Strip, but faded. pic.twitter.com/zqxPCG93OZ