By Ray Hickson
Nothing about the build-up to the long-awaited return of Golden Slipper winner Estijaab has gone to script but trainer John Hawkes hopes she still has the class to overcome adversity.
We haven’t seen the filly since her Slipper win last March save for two barrier trials but plenty happened in between and the second of those trials was a lot more eventful than the Hawkes stable bargained for.
Estijaab knuckled out of the gates and continued without jockey Brenton Avdulla in what was her only trial, on January 29, ahead of the Inglis Sprint (1100m) at Warwick Farm on Saturday - hardly ideal for a $1 million race.
“It doesn’t help, it can’t be ideal but you can’t do anything about it. That’s how it is and you’ve just got to move on,’’ Hawkes said.
“You have to work around it. She’s ready to go, she’s done enough at home to go to the races.
“We gave her plenty of trackwork, that’s what happened so that’s how it is.’’
Aside from the trial mishap, Estijaab is also returning from a tie back operation, that forced her out of the spring, following a trial back in August and Hawkes said that has the potential to affect her preparation more than a gallop without a jockey.
On the plus side she’ll carry just 54kg under the set weights conditions and will be out to emulate 2017 Slipper winner She Will Reign who won the race last year.
“It’s a good race to start off in. She’s well in at the weights so that is a plus,’’ he said.
“Hopefully she comes back okay but until you go to the races you’ve got no idea.
“She can’t be as good as she was in one sense because she’s had a throat operation but she’s still good enough to beat most of them.’’
Estijaab was $3.70 equal favourite, alongside Fiesta, early with TAB – a far cry from the $1.24 that She Will Reign started and likely an illustration of the question marks over the operation and the trial.
The Hawkes stable produces unbeaten colt Brutal for his first start since he also missed the bulk of the spring with a minor injury.
He opened $1.95 in a strong renewal of the Group 3 $160,000 Aquis Farm Eskimo Prince Stakes (1200m) but was able to complete his 900m trial and win under Tommy Berry on January 29.
“Trials aren’t about winning they are about getting them ready for racing,’’ Hawkes said.
“He’s a nice young horse and he’s another stepping stone so we’ll see how he goes.
“His record speaks for itself, you can only win and that’s all he’s done.’’
Brutal wins his barrier trial at Rosehill on January 29
While Brutal's three wins were in Melbourne last year the colt, as is the case with all the Hawkes horses, has spent plenty of time in Sydney.
Hawkes wouldn’t be drawn on a likely autumn target for Brutal but you’d imagine the Group 1 Randwick Guineas (1600m) is high on any agenda.
What do we make of the debutante Valdostana in the Listed $140,000 Darley Lonhro Plate (1100m)?
The filly finished a close second in a 900m trial at Rosehill early last week under a reasonable hold from Berry but as usual Hawkes is playing his cards close to his chest.
“She’s a nice little filly, nothing special,’’ he said.
“She trialled nicely, did all she had to do but you can’t get carried away with trials.’’