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Hawkes Sprinter On A Crusade For TJ Smith Respect

By Ray Hickson

He’s a last start Group 1 winner but co-trainer Michael Hawkes can’t believe Masked Crusader will tackle Saturday’s $2.5m Heineken TJ Smith Stakes (1200m) as an underdog.

That’s allowing for the presence of reigning champ Nature Strip, his recent conqueror Eduardo and star Godolphin sprinter Bivouac in the autumn’s premier sprint race.

Hawkes appreciates the talents of the opposition but said Masked Crusader deserves more respect than he’s getting.

“They are in the race so be it, we can only worry about our bloke,’’ Hawkes said.

Trainer Michael Hawkes (Pic: Bradley Photos).

“He’s a horse with massive potential and he’s just going to get better and better. If they are there no problems.”

Kerrin McEvoy will be sporting the colours famously worn by three time TJ Smith winner Chautauqua on board Masked Crusader, an $8.50 chance with TAB on Tuesday after the four-year-old drew barrier seven.

Stablemate Dirty Work, last start fourth in the Galaxy, jumps from barrier nine.

Masked Crusader raced with quite a boom on him for most of 2020 but has come of age this autumn with a first-up Group 3 win at Randwick, a third in the Group 1 Canterbury Stakes and his William Reid Stakes win in Melbourne.

“He probably should have won the Canterbury Stakes, he was slow away and he only just got beaten,’’ Hawkes said.

“A lot of people forget about that run. They forgot about him in the Moonee Valley race, from our point of view he was always going to win a Group 1 it was just a matter of which one.”

The barrier gods haven’t been kind once again to the Hawkes-trained two-year-old Hilal and he’ll jump from the outside alley in the Group 1 $1m Inglis Sires’ (1400m) on Saturday.

The colt debuted with an impressive win back in February before placing in the Group 2 Skyline Stakes (1200m), where he hit the line strongly in a slowly run race, then was beaten less than two lengths after running on from last in the Group 2 Pago Pago Stakes (1200m) behind Shaquero.

Hilal clocked the fastest last 600m of the Pago Pago, running 33.60 (Punter’s Intelligence), he was one of only two horses to break 11 seconds between the 400m and 200m (10.88) and his last 200m of 11.41 was also the race’s best.

“We bypassed the Slipper with him for the Sires,’’ Hawkes said.

“If he drew a barrier last start I think he wins. He rocketed home and it was a huge run, he had no make up eight lengths on the corner and he only got beaten a length and a half.

“Racing is so competitive you need the advantage of a good barrier.”

The youngster was an $8.50 chance on Tuesday, with Golden Slipper runner-up Anamoe the $2.30 favourite, and Kerrin McEvoy will also ride him.

All the fields, form and replays for Day 1 of The Star Championships at Royal Randwick

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