As the Ballydoyle brain trust assembles its massive army and attempts to sort out who will run in which Breeders' Cup race, there is one decision that requires very little thought. And that is, Hawk Wing belongs in the Classic, regardless of whether or not stablemate Rock of Gibraltar runs.
At first, watching Hawk Wing get smothered in the final furlong by longshot Where or When in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, it was thought he simply wasn't good enough right now to compete at the level of the Classic. But further study proved just the opposite.
Hawk Wing had a solid spring campaign, which saw him get beat a neck by Rock of Gibraltar in the 2,000 Guineas and run a good second to High Chaparral in the English Derby, 12 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher. He then toyed with a small, mediocre field in the 10-furlong Eclipse Stakes, defeating his pacesetter Sholokhov, who remarkably was coming off a second to High Chaparral at 200-1 in the Irish Derby five days earlier. Then the virus that ran rampant through Aidan O'Brien's stable hit him, knocking him out and forcing him to miss the York meeting. Brought back after a two-month absence, the last thing he needed first time back was a real gut-wrencher, which is exactly what he got in the 1 1/4-mile Irish Champion Stakes. Sandwiched between the Godolphin horses Grandera and Best of the Bests, he was forced to gut it out in a hard-fought stretch battle. He out-dueled Best of the Bests on his inside, but the top-class Grandera just nipped him right on the wire.
With such a hard race under him, he now he was facing that dreaded second race back off a layoff factor, which we commonly call "bounce." He was brought back in only three weeks -- not a lot of time, especially by European standards – and was dropped back to a mile for the always grueling Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over the demanding Ascot course. It should be noted that Best of the Bests, who finished right with Hawk Wing in the Irish Champion, also came back in the Queen Elizabeth and finish last of five, beaten 7 1/2 lengths.
Of the eight winners of the QE II who ran back in the Breeders' Cup Mile, none even finished in the money. The three winners of the Breeders' Cup Mile to come out the QEII were coming off a sound defeat. Even Giant's Causeway suffered a rare defeat in the QEII before nearly winning the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Hawk Wing is a beautiful moving horse with smooth, graceful strides. He has the speed to run with Rock of Gibraltar at a mile and the stamina to test High Chaparral at 1 1/2 miles. But his best distance is 1 1/4 miles. And if you're looking for enough dirt influences in his pedigree to suggest he should handle the new surface, he is by Woodman, sire of Belmont and Preakness winner Hansel, Preakness and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Timber Country, and Whitney winner Mahogony Hall. Woodman is a son of Mr. Prospector, out of a Buckpasser mare. While he has a number of turf influences in his female family, his dam, La Lorgnette, easily defeated colts in the Queen's Plate with an electrifying turn of foot, and also won the Canadian Oaks, both on dirt. La Lorgnette's granddam, La Sevillana, was a multiple group I winner in Argentina on the dirt, capturing the Argentina Oaks and the prestigious Polla de Potrancas, as well as other major stakes.
It's been announced that Coolmore wants to keep Hawk Wing in training next year. After superior fields in the Classic in 2000 and 2001, there are many questions surrounding this year's field. This is the perfect time for the Europeans to take a shot at it. They have one colt who fits all the profiles, and his name is Hawk Wing. If he is sound and healthy, there appears to be no reason to deprive him of the opportunity to enhance his value as a stallion many times over. If he fails, there is still next year to restore his reputation, which has already suffered anyway. Ballydoyle is not used to running 4-year-olds, which means they never really find out their horses' true potential. Hawk Wing should mature into a top-class older horse. But his time is now, and he may never get this opportunity again.