18 May 2003
Aidan O’Brien’s `talking horse’ finally silences a host of doubters with a breathtaking big-race triumph
At last he is as good as he looks. And in Hawk Wing’s case that is very, very good indeed. Eleven lengths (a record margin for the race) and eight lengths was his superiority over Where Or When and Olden Times in the Lockinge Stakes. This, the season’s best performance so far, was quality with a capital Q.
The glory is that Hawk Wing was here at all. Two seasons is the normal racing span for the top Ballydoyle colts and a dual Group One winner like Hawk Wing could always expect to spend his four-year-old summer in the Sultan’s role in the breeding shed. Ballydoyle felt he had something to prove. He has proved it.
Last year, Hawk Wing suffered from the weight of expectation. His early homework had been such that anything less than total domination could be seen as failure.
He won the Eclipse Stakes and was a good second in the Guineas, the Derby, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, yet the general consensus would call him disappointing.
Worse still, we doubted his courage. For all his massive, shiny-bay physique, when it came to the tough part of a race, his head would come up and a little sideways in the tell-tale sign of the unwilling. When his year ended in sand-soaked ignominy at the back of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, many cynics felt that Coolmore would cut their losses and cash Hawk Wing in.
Aidan O’Brien and his team did quite the opposite. They reviewed all Hawk Wing’s races, took suggestions from John Francome and Sue Magnier and called the back doctor in.
“They found plenty wrong with him,” said Aidan yesterday. “They worked on him through the winter and at last this is the real horse, he has put on 15 kilos in muscle too.”
O’Brien’s almost whispered politeness should never suggest there is anything soft about him. He was a hard-riding champion amateur jockey before he became a trainer, and his first success in that sphere was founded on super-fit, prolifically campaigned jumpers. He now has a mature, battle-toughened Hawk Wing to play with. Yesterday, he looked like a man who could hardly believe his luck.
For Hawk Wing’s destruction of Where Or When and Olden Times with French challenger Domedriver back in fourth, was nothing short of awesome. What is more, with the expected front-runner Desert Deer refusing to go in the stalls, Hawk Wing did it from the front.
“I thought we might as well jump out and let him run,” said Michael Kinane with sensible pragmatism afterwards. “People called him names last year but he had a tough time, ran over all sorts of distances. Today showed how good he could be.”
This was a new, ruthless Hawk Wing. No more stalking the pace and cruising up from the back, this race was put to the sword early. Two furlongs out, Kinane may have looked hard and purposeful behind the mane, but in his wake the other jockeys already had their elbows at the pump.
With 300 yards to run, all his pursuers, Breeders’ Cup winner Domedriver, Olden Times and his Ascot conqueror Where Or When, were hung out to dry. But Kinane was still taking no chances. Hawk Wing still cannot change the slightly upright head carriage but this time the undercarriage was really rolling. On and on he came – daylight was second.
The clock confirmed the excellence of the performance. On rain-softened turf, Hawk Wing ran the straight mile in 1min 36.7sec, almost two full seconds quicker than the standard time on a day when no other horses were even matching it.
Future targets are as varied as the 1¼-mile Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, the one-mile Queen Anne Stakes or even Newmarket’s July Cup over six furlongs. One race does not make a summer, let alone a season, and racing is littered with dazzling opening performances which do not get repeated. That said, if Hawk Wing repeats, the rest will be history.
Two races after the Lockinge Stakes, the O’Brien team were back in the winner’s enclosure with another horse with a huge weight of expectation. This time the colt was having the first run of his life. The sky was the limit for Grand Reward even before he was born. His sire is the American super-stud Storm Cat, his mother the best of her generation over there.
He had 13 rivals for the Cantor Sport Maiden Stakes and only time will tell the merit of their defeat. But as opening shots go, this was highly satisfactory, tucked in behind the leaders until the final furlong then, having to be driven hard to hit the front before, pleasingly, stretching away in the response only a good horse can give.
These are early days for Grand Reward. He may well be overtaken by other classmates at Ballydoyle but, for now, he represents the flag carrier of the new two-year-old generation with Royal Ascot targets directly in his path.
The delight this summer is that he has, in Hawk Wing, a senior who at last is delivering an excellence that very few can follow.