Countdown begins for Blake Spriggs’ date with Caulfield Cup destiny
THE horse is nothing more than a pit-pony – a pint-sized, dyed-in-the-wool Irish-bred stayer that arrived unheralded in Australia from the old dart about four years ago.
A modern-day, equine free settler, if you will – all 480kg of him.
His jockey – and best mate – sold new and used cars for a while until the taste of racing, and winning, returned.
He even did a stint with Gai Waterhouse prior to his brief career finger-tapping car bonnets.
And his new trainer, who was only handed the reins of the horse in question a couple of months ago, honed his craft from a bloke by the name of Bart Cummings.
Now, imported galloper Sir John Hawkwood, jockey Blake Spriggs, trainer John Thompson and owner Paul Fudge have their eyes, goals, hopes and dreams collectively focused on adding a fairytale chapter to Australian racing folklore when they take on the best the world can dish up in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup on Saturday week.
It’s a serious race that draws serious players from across the globe, and right there in the thick of things are Spriggs, Thompson and Fudge – and their horse.
After five rides at the Warwick Farm barrier trials on Friday morning, Spriggs flew to Melbourne – business class, of course – to partner Sir John Hawkwood in trackwork.
The jockey then returned to Sydney – business class, of course – to ride Van Halen for Danny Williams in the TAB Highway Handicap and Greg Bennett’s You Are Golden in the Group 3 Angst Stakes at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Sir John Hawkwood announced his arrival as a genuine big spring cups contender with a dour performance to win the Group 1 The Metropolitan at Royal Randwick last Saturday.
The eight-year-old now strives to emulate 2006 winner Tawqueet, the last horse to collect the Metropolitan-Caulfield Cup double.
Sir John Hawkwood gave Spriggs his first Group 1 success off a preparation better suited to the rolling hills of old England.
But that’s the right way to train the gelding, says Spriggs, who 10 or 12 years ago was whacking away at Gravesend pony camps each school holidays.
It was a million miles from the long stretches of emerald green at Caulfield and Flemington at Spring Carnival time.
“The Metropolitan was only his second run back from a let-up,” Spriggs said.
“He’d had 90 days off and went to Paul’s farm after the Brisbane Cup and spent a couple of weeks in the paddock.
“All up, he really only had about five weeks off and then he was back into light training with John.
“It was more of a freshen-up, so he still had a bit of residual fitness,” he said.
“John just topped him off nicely by taking him to Kembla Grange the Tuesday before the Metrop to give him a gallop between races – that’s something that Bart taught him.
“It was a good training effort,” Spriggs said.
Spriggs says the key to Sir John Hawkwood is to train him the way he was trained back home.
“He’s a typical English stayer, and that’s why it took so long to get him to the form he’s in now,” Spriggs said.
“A lot of his earlier trainers were trying to train him like a typical Australian stayer by really putting the long work into him and getting him fit, but his legs just can’t handle it.
“He doesn’t have the same turn of foot when he’s been worked hard.
“Something that I picked up on him about 18 months ago when I started riding him is that he just doesn’t respond well to a lot of work, and that’s very much a European thing,” he said.
“Even though he was second-up over 2400m the other day (in the Metrop), back in Europe they run them first-up from a spell over that distance.
“That’s just a done thing over there, but things are a little different here,” he said.
Spriggs has seen his short career in the saddle turn full circle in recent years – and now a ride in the Caulfield Cup on a genuine winning chance beckons.
“Once I left the Gai Waterhouse stable I thought that would be it for big-time racing,” he said.
“I thought I’d have to work hard at it around the provincials – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but having that success as an apprentice gave me a taste of winning those big races, and it was something that I really missed.
“Linking up with Paul Fudge at Waratah Thoroughbreds gave me the confidence I needed to improve, and the opportunity to get to the Group 1 races on good horses like Sir John Hawkwood,” Spriggs said.
To read part one of this feature article on Sir John Hawkwood’s Metrop win go to
Words Copyright Bill Poulos
Copyrighted Images supplied by www.bradleyphotos.com.au
Posted 4.15pm, October 7, 2016