Team Hawkes is confident that progressive gelding Leebaz can make the step-up to weight-for-age level when he makes his Group 1 debut in the 2014 Doomben Cup this afternoon.
Leebaz started his autumn campaign with a win in a benchmark 79 event at Royal Randwick on February 22 before taking out the Pro-Ride Handicap (1600m) at Warwick Farm on April 5.
The Zabeel gelding had the only hiccup of his preparation when he was beaten by Weary in the Group 3 Doncaster Prelude (1500m) at Rosehill Gardens on April 5, but returned to winning form with a comfortable win in the Group 3 Hawkesbury Gold Cup (1600m) on May 3.
Co-trainer Michael Hawkes said that he has been thrilled with the progression that Leebaz has made this campaign and is of the belief that the four-year-old has the talent to record his maiden Group 1 victory in the Doomben Cup.
“How many horses can do what he has done,” Hawkes said.
“He’s just kept improving with every start which is typical of the Zabeel breed, but he’s not your dour Zabeel, he is a running type.
“You can’t hold him up, he is a free-wheeling sort of horse so you just have to let him flow, keep him in rhythm.
“Weight-for-age racing is different again but we hope his natural brilliance helps him.’’
John Hawkes said after Leebaz’s win in the Hawkesbury Gold Cup that he expected the Zabeel gelding to be sent to the spelling paddock, but Michael Hawkes is adamant that the Doomben Cup has always been on the agenda for Leebaz.
Hawkes said that the stable let their horses decide when there preparations have come to an end and he believes that Leebaz deserves a chance at weight-for-age level after coming out of the Hawkesbury Gold Cup in excellent condition.
“We had always had the Doomben Cup in our plans, this race has always been there and it was up to the horse.
“When Leebaz pulled up as well as he did after Hawkesbury, then it told us he was ready for the Doomben Cup.
“To be fair, the horse is peaking and deserves a crack at this race.”
Leebaz is currently available at 2014 Doomben Cup odds of $5.50; with triple Group 1 winner Streama ($4.20) a narrow favourite from the well-backed Junoob ($4.60) and Akzar ($5).
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