Racing: Hawk Wing clipped but Derby is his day

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The Independent Online

You get inured to bookmakers making a 2,000 Guineas horse a silly price for the Derby. Usually, though, they have the good manners to do it about the winner of the Newmarket Classic. Now we have Hawk Wing, the Guineas runner-up behind his well-drawn stablemate Rock Of Gibraltar, at 2-1 for Epsom. Ladbrokes go 9-4 and we must assume this is the more realistic as Mike Dillon, the Magic Sign's PR man, spent more time next to Hawk Wing and the winner's joint owner, Sir Alex Ferguson, than even Aidan O'Brien on Saturday.

Representatives of the Big Three claimed to have been swamped by a spectrum of punters, including professionals, when they initially offered 3-1. The colt's pedigree is the usual swirl of contradictions. There is stamina on his dam's side, while his sire is Woodman, who has produced both Bosra Sham and a reputation for delivering soft horses.

Perhaps more significant is Hawk Wing's actual appearance. Horses of his awesome proportions do not regularly win Derbys. O'Brien says be is not worried, believing the big fellow to be perfectly well balanced, but then the trainer has yet to call one of his charges a great lummox.

It was, effectively, another great post-race Trappist performance from O'Brien. We can distil his thoughts into two simple messages. Firstly, the result was beneficial for his two main horses, as both Rock Of Gibraltar and Hawk Wing seemed to think they had won. Certainly, it was a Classic supermarket on Saturday. We got two Guineas for the price of one, as the Irish horses dominated their respective bunches on either side of the course. Second, O'Brien added, rather disingenuously, that he was unsure if the draw had any significant effect. This put him in a very small minority.

In the blustery preliminaries each of the Godolphin horses, recently returned from the sweaty Gulf, were draped in rugs to ward off the cold. King Of Happiness, the second favourite, seemed to be creating his own heat. There were sweat patches on his neck, the flanks and between his legs. This was enough to dampen enthusiasm even before he had to be blindfolded behind the stalls.

Hawk Wing dominated the field in the paddock, the possessor of proportions that could carry you across country in the chase after foxy. In comparison, Rock Of Gibraltar was ordinary. He looked small and unremarkable. It was the machinery which was to prove noteworthy.

Redback, as anticipated, was quick to show on the far rail, as Rock Of Gibraltar was settled in the middle of the convoy. More decisively, Hawk Wing jinked right out of the stalls, but was immediately yanked left by his jockey, Jamie Spencer, in an effort to keep tabs on the fancied King Of Happiness and Massalani. O'Brien exonerated his jockey yesterday when he reported that Spencer was merely obeying instruction, that the yard wanted both sides of the course covered. Whatever, it was a manoeuvre which would prove fatal to his chances.

By the time Spencer had uncurled Hawk Wing's limbs, Rock Of Gibraltar and Johnny Murtagh had skipped past Redback on to an unassailable lead. The runner-up was just a neck behind and had gained such momentum at the line that there were some frightened faces in the Newmarket Golf Club at the bottom of the Rowley Mile as he pulled up.

Television lipreaders will have picked up Spencer's disappointed two-word reaction to defeat. It seemed quite at odds with his cherubic features. Nevertheless, this was only a sleeping policeman on the Irishman's road to superstardom. His mount, the Derby notwithstanding, is heading in the same direction.

Aidan O'Brien recognised this and used the words he had on Saturday to praise the Rock. That may have been the day for the horse who will probably run in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. Hawk Wing's will come soon enough.