Team Hawkes is flying on the track despite the odd spot of turbulence off it
In this era of mega stables, Team Hawkes relies on quality not quantity.
They may never win premierships again but on racing’s biggest stage, they “punch above their weight”.
The stable has produced some outstanding racehorses over the last decade including champions Chautauqua and All Too Hard, Golden Slipper winners Mossfun and Estijaab, and the likes of Fiumicino, Maluckyday, Inference, Divine Prophet, Niwot, Star Turn, Deep Field, Our Boy Malachi and Brutal.
Since Hall of Fame trainer John Hawkes formed a partnership with his sons, Wayne and Michael in 2008, they have enjoyed a period of sustained excellence, preparing more than 900 winners including 16 Group 1 races and nearly $70 million prizemoney.
At Rosehill Gardens on Saturday, Exceedance could become the latest Group 1 winner to roll off the Team Hawkes production line when he contests the $1 million Golden Rose (1400m).
“The last 10 years have been pretty good but that is for other people to judge,’’ John Hawkes said.
“There were some tough times for the first couple of years, no one really wanted to know us. People want winners and we had to build the stable from scratch.
“But we have some very good loyal clients who have stick by us through thick and thin.
“We may not have the stable numbers of the big boys but we try to hold our own and keep ourselves competitive.’’
When he was private trainer for the Ingham racing empire from 1992-2007, Hawkes was the first trainer to have stable bases in four states and had up to 400 horses in work at any one time. He was the trailblazer for today’s super stables where some trainers have hundreds of horses in work.
They were heady days for Hawkes when he trained superstars like Octagonal and Lonhro and was regularly the nation’s leading Group 1 trainer.
But you sense he gets more satisfaction these days sharing the stable’s successes with his sons.
“We had some fantastic times with Jack and Bob but nothing stays the same forever, things change and you have to move on,’’ Hawkes said.
“It is different now. To work with my family and be reasonably successful it doesn’t get much better than that.’’
One of the enduring images of Sydney racing in the modern era was the emotional embrace of the Hawkes brothers in the Rosehill mounting yard after Estijaab won the Golden Slipper last year.
Team Hawkes might be flying these days but it still strikes turbulence at times.
“We have some big blues, don’t worry about that,’’ Michael Hawkes said.
“But at the end of the day the biggest things for us is that we work very well together.
“We may have different ideas at times but we work through them until we get a consensus.
“We have arguments, every family does, and this is a high pressure job, but the thing about us we have can a ding-dong battle but five minutes later it is forgotten.’’
Wayne Hawkes had a slightly different take on the subject: “More like overnight then the next day it’s good as gold!”
“But seriously, working with family keeps you grounded,’’ Wayne said. “When you get ahead of yourself, the others pull you into line very quickly.
“I’m working with family every day and some people are flat out talking to their family once a week.
“We are on the phone to each other 30 times a day — we don’t even say hello when we call.’’
John conceded he has some “very robust discussions” with his sons about their horses.
“There are arguments but we try to work out the best to attack things,’’ he said.
“We bounce things off each other and it works pretty ‘good’ the way we operate. We work as a team and each of us brings something to the table.
“The boys come up with ideas that often are better than mine!”
It would be easy for John Hawkes to “pull rank” during these discussions but he maintains this is a training partnership of equals.
“Dad’s a Hall of Famer and he has forgotten more than what Wayne and I know,’’ Michael said.
“The reality is Dad’s a bit old school, Wayne and I have different ideas about things but it gels, it works.’’
Exceedance is an example of how Team Hawkes works in unison. Purchased for $180,000 at the Easter Yearling Sales last year, the colt showed obvious natural ability early in his juvenile season but his trainers didn’t push him to the races.
“He just wasn’t ready,’’ John Hawkes explained.
Instead, they waited until May and chose a lowly provincial maiden for Exceedance to make his race debut.
Exceedance was explosive that day. He settled at the rear of the field early before unleashing a brilliant burst of acceleration to win by nearly a length, easing down.
Although Exceedance was beaten next start when third to Splintex at Rosehill, his fast finishing effort as so impressive he was installed early favourite for the Golden Rose.
Exceedance resumed in the Group 3 San Domenico Stakes at Rosehill last month and lived up to his huge reputation by sprinting past Bivouac to win by two lengths.
Bivouac was able to turn the tables last start when Exceedance ran third to that colt in the Run To The Rose.
An analysis of the sectional times from that race showed the first four over the line (Yes Yes Yes ran second and Kubrick fourth) all broke 33s for their final 600m with Exceedance producing the best closing sectional of the race with a 32.59s split.
“Exceedance is still a ‘baby’, he will be a really nice colt in the autumn and what he’s doing now is on raw ability,’’ Michael Hawkes said.
“His first-up win was outstanding and he ran an unbelievable sectional last start.
“I know he didn’t win but what it is telling you is that the horse is still on song.
“The Golden Rose is over 1400m and is a different race again but this colt hasn’t let us down yet.’’
John Hawkes, who prepared the Ingham-owned Paratroopers to win the Golden Rose in 2003, said the step up to 1400m is “no issue” for Exceedance.
“He’s great, we couldn’t be any happier with the horse,’’ he said. “This a good race but you need luck to win these big races. Some weeks you have that bit of luck, the next you don’t.’’
Exceedance is by champion sire Exceed And Excel and a Golden Rose win would guarantee the colt’s future as a commercial stallion prospect.
The Hawkes stable has a proven ability to develop well-bred colts into top class racehorses and setting them up for stud careers including the likes of All Too Hard, Real Saga, Love Conquers All, Headwater, Divine Prophet, Inference, Star Turn, Swear and Showtime.
Exceedance’s stablemate Brutal, winner of this year’s Doncaster Mile, is still racing but will also add his name to that elite list when retired to stud.
“We have made a stallion every year,’’ Michael Hawkes said. “That’s what we try to do, make stallions out of these good colts.’’