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It has been a long, hard road to Cup glory for Kyneton-based trainer Neil Dyer but on Monday afternoon his gallant old galloper Hawks Bay proved persistence pays, winning the 2011 Darwin Cup at their third attempt.
Black Hawk gelding Hawks Bay had finished runner-up in the two most recent editions of the Northern Territory’s showcase race, but yesterday the six-year-old outclassed and outstayed their rivals to take out the $175,000 Carlton Mid Darwin Cup (2000m).
In a perfectly timed ride from heavyweight jockey Steven Arnold, who enjoyed a homecoming win of sorts having begun his riding career in the Top End, Hawks Bay ($4.40) was sitting ideally in fourth on the back straight, saved until the final 250 metres when they pulled out a blistering late burst to run down a fading leader Montego Bay.
Making easy work of their hefty 62kg weight allocation, Hawks Bay pulled away from the pack to beat home stablemate Palmyra Boy by four lengths while the Melinda Boothby-trained Blackbriar finished off the winning Darwin Cup trifecta just ahead of a gallant fourth-placegetter, $100 roughie Very Fast.
Darwin Cup favourite The Ruffian ($2.60), prepared by the winning jockey’s mother Sheila Arnold, was never a threat missing the $100,000 Darwin Turf Club’s Triple Crown bonus and eventually crossing sixth.
Having travelled 3,700 kilometres to make it to the Darwin Cup Carnival from Melbourne, Dyer was over the moon with Hawks Bay’s big win.
“I’ve been trying for a few years and I don’t know how I would have felt if he hadn’t won today,” an emotional Dyer said on Monday.
“It’s been a long time coming but in the end it was worth the wait.
“At the corner I knew he was home and Steven produced an exceptional ride.
“No, Steven produced a beautiful ride.”
Dyer’s third trip to the Top End was made even sweeter with the big effort from Palmyra Boy to finish second, handing the Victorian horseman the Darwin Cup Quinella.
“The fact that Palmyra Boy ran second has also made it worthwhile travelling to Darwin for the third straight year,” he said.
Arnold described the win as a “huge thrill” and was honoured to have had the chance to ride a Darwin Cup winner in front of the 20,000 racegoers that included many familiar faces to the top jockey.
“It means a heap to me,” Arnold said.
“Obviously we’ve had a lot to do with the Territory and Darwin and the people up here I’ve known them all my life so it’s like coming home.
“To win the Cup is a huge thrill, especially for Neil.
“It’s his third go at it and what a marvellous old horse.
“He was going that well on the turn I just had to count to 10 before I went as he was carrying 62kg.
“He gave me a beautiful ride – he’s so genuine and he really deserves it.
“Him and the whole team.”
Having finally achieved the elusive Darwin Cup win, Dyer was uncertain over whether he would be back at the Darwin Cup Carnival next year.
“Of all the races I have won since coming to Darwin, the Cup is the race that I have so desperately wanted to win,” he said.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be back next year, I’ll assess everything when I get back home early next week.”
Hawks Bay has now won 11 of their 39 career starts to date earning over $605,000 in prize money for connections.
Having been up in Darwin since mid-June, winning three of their five starts in the NT including the Bernborough Club Cup and Sky Racing Metrick Mile, Hawks Bay is likely to return to Victoria for a spell.
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