By Richard Griffiths
They say that only fools rush in. Yet Aidan O'Brien is no fool. So just why was he so keen to rave, in such an uncharacteristic manner, about Hawk Wing earlier this year, before the son of Woodman had even made his 3-year-old debut? We have been waiting quite some time for an explanation, but at least now we have had a glimpse of his thinking. Hawk Wing's 2 1/2-length success over stablemate Sholokhov in the Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I) over 10 furlongs at Sandown on July 6 was a performance that attracted its fair share of critics. But that simply may have been an indication of just how much fuss and expectation O'Brien's early season eulogies had caused. Such was O'Brien's faith in the colt that he had talked in earnest of how Hawk Wing, who is owned by Susan Magnier, had the class and durability to become the first winner of the Triple Crown since the great Nijinsky II in 1970. To do that, he would have had to have claimed the Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) over a mile, the Derby (Eng-I) over 1 1/2 miles, and the St. Leger (Eng-I, Sept. 14), over 1 3/4 miles. Of course, he fell at the first hurdle when an absurdly unfavorable draw at Newmarket saw him just fail to peg back Rock of Gibraltar in the Guineas. The ground was then against him in the Derby when he chased home yet another O'Brien colt, High Chaparral. The St. Leger, it can safely be said, is off the menu. Perhaps, when listing Hawk Wing's many virtues, O'Brien should have paused to reflect on the one he seemed to be missing, and it was a pretty important one at that. Luck. Even though the softish ground was once more against him in the Eclipse, Hawk Wing at least had the benefit of a soft race, although a prestigious one, in which to resume the winning ways of his juvenile days. Only four horses opposed him at Sandown, the smallest field in the Eclipse since Pebbles had only three rivals in 1985. There have been comments made already this season about a lack of strength in depth at the highest level. That's not quite true. The problem is that so much of the quality is housed at O'Brien's Ballydoyle stables: 34 of the original 87 Eclipse entries were his. With Sholokhov setting the pace, just as he had done when he finished second at 200-1 to High Chaparral in the Irish Derby (Ire-I) six days earlier, Mick Kinane was able to settle Hawk Wing nicely, with only one horse behind him for much of the race. Wisely, Kinane took a firm hold of the reins as he asked Hawk Wing to hit the front, although at no stage did he need to apply the whip. He looked slightly labored once in the lead, although to crib the performance would be silly. Hawk Wing did all that was asked of him. You can't knock a horse for doing that. Afterward, O'Brien reflected with barely disguised horror on his heady words of the spring. "A big mistake," he said of his confidence-fueled bulletins. "I finished him saying what I did. It was the wrong thing to say."
That said, O'Brien is still expecting major things of Hawk Wing for the rest of the season, especially as the rain-soaked Ballydoyle gallops have affected the colt's preparations "big time." O'Brien considered withdrawing Hawk Wing from the Eclipse after walking the course, so concerned was he that the going would be unsuitably soft. Although the 1 1/2-mile King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-I, July 30) is an option, Kinane is keen that Hawk Wing sticks to 10 furlongs. He is also bullish of better things to come. "I really believe you haven't seen the best of this colt," he said. "When we get good to firm ground, he will be a really exciting horse." Even now, O'Brien cannot keep to himself his views on Hawk Wing. "He's a special kind of horse. There aren't many horses that you could enter in a group I race over anything from six furlongs to a mile-and-a-half. He's such a great specimen. He has always worked unbelievably well, and there are few horses who excite you like he does in the morning." Such enthusiasm should be noted.