Having showed nice improvement in their first prep since being gelded, the Michael, Wayne and John Hawkes-trained Ninth Legion will look to keep the form going in Sydney this weekend with a win in the 2013 Festival Stakes.
The Segenhoe Thoroughbreds Australia-owned son of Fastnet Rock was a $110,000 buy from the 2011 William Inglis and Son Australian Easter Yearling Sales.
Formerly prepared by Anthony Cummings, they showed plenty of early promise as a juvenile wining their opening two runs in May last year.
They also were right in the mix as a three-year-old in Sydney including their fourth to Epaulette in last year’s Group 1 Golden Rose (1400m).
Transferred to Team Hawkes care at the start of this year, for them Ninth Legion won just one of their opening six starts.
After a disappointing fifth to Taxmeifyoucan in the Inglis 3YO Guineas (1400m) at Scone in May, connections made the tough call to chase more track success and forego the horse’s stallion prospects by gelding them.
“While he was still a colt he was running nice races without winning,” co-trainer Michael Hawkes told The Sydney Morning Herald this week.
“The talent has always been there. He is a son of Fastnet Rock and everyone wants to think they have a stallion [in the making], but you need to be winning and be a racehorse before you’re a stallion.
“The owners were happy to make the hard decision to geld him and it looks like it has made him a racehorse.”
It proved a good move as the horse has showed steady improvement since, including their last start win in the Wadalba Handicap (1350m) at Rosehill Gardens on November 16.
“All his runs have been good this time in,” Hawkes said.
“He doesn’t like being inside horses and he came through on the fence first-up and did a good enough job [running fifth in the Listed Lightning Handicap at Randwick].
“He was probably a bit close when [Tromso] fought back to beat him [second-up at Hawkesbury].
“So last start we rode him where he was happy and tried to get in his head a bit and he won, which was a boost to his confidence.”
Now they step back up to stakes company at the same track on Saturday for a shot at the $100,000 Listed Festival Stakes (1500m).
Drawn in gate four, into three with emergencies out, the youngster will be ridden by Tommy Berry for the first time under race conditions.
They currently pay $10 in the Festival Stakes odds led by the flying Terravista ($3.30) who shoots four their fourth straight win this time in.
It’s a decent price and one they could reward their backers on with the right run from their inside gate for Saturday.
“We are still playing mind games with him,” Hawkes admitted, saying confidence would be the key to their run.
“He probably felt as if he won at Hawkesbury [two back] and he was good last start and got that confidence.
“This is the right race at the right time. He has drawn a gate [in barrier four] and we will let him get comfortable in the run and hope he can show his best.”
Like the majority of Festival Stakes contenders, Ninth Legion is looking to earn a next-up run in the $175,000 Group 2 Villiers Stakes (1600m) at Royal Randwick on December 14.
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