Arnaud Delacour has high hopes that his 6-year-old mare Hawksmoor will wave goodbye to the competition in Saturday's Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs.
Regardless of the outcome, the trainer will bid her farewell after the race. Owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson plan to breed her to 2018 North American leading sire Kitten's Joy, who stands at Hill 'n' Dale Farms in Lexington, Ky., kicking off her next career.
Based on an enthusiastic half-mile breeze Saturday with assistant trainer Emily Castrenze in the saddle, Delacour believes the Irish-bred Hawksmoor is capable of a similar effort to her victory here on Feb. 9 in the Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour, also on the turf.
“I was delighted with her breeze,” Delacour said of the 48 4/5 seconds move on the main track. “She did everything well and she was very happy doing it, and she was bouncing when we walked her later, which is one of the things you like to see.
“She was going better than her company and galloped out very well without (Castrenze) asking her. She can be a little lazy, especially galloping out, but she wanted to go a little farther (Saturday), which is always a good sign.”
The Hillsborough, for fillies and mares 4-years-old and upward, is contested at a distance of a mile-and-an-eighth, a sixteenth of a mile longer than the Lambholm South Endeavour.
Joe Bravo is expected to be in town to ride Hawksmoor on Saturday. A field of eight or nine runners appears likely.
The Hillsborough is part of a $1-million Festival Day 39 stakes program headlined by the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track for 3-year-old Triple Crown prospects. The Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby is a “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points race, with points awarded to the first four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
Also scheduled are the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks, for 3-year-old fillies at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the turf; the $100,000 Challenger Stakes, for horses 4-years-old-and-upward at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main track; and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes, for 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf.
Festival Day 39 also kicks off the annual “Live It Up Challenge” online handicapping contest. Participation is free and the top two finishers receive $1,000 and $500, respectively, and seats at next season's High Rollers Handicapping Contest at Tampa Bay Downs.
Hawksmoor, who has won three graded stakes races under Delacour, including the Grade II New York Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on the inner turf at Belmont Park as a 4-year-old, showed a different dimension in the Lambholm South Endeavour from her usual style of running on or near the lead. After breaking slowly under jockey Javier Castellano, she settled in seventh place early, but moved up quickly to trail the leaders by only four lengths heading up the backstretch.
“They were going very quick up front, so I don't think the (dawdling) start was that dramatic,” Delacour said. “A lot had to do with Javier being able to get her to relax behind horses. He didn't panic, and she put in a good kick the last quarter of a mile, which is what you need to do to compete at this level.
“She might have been hanging a little bit late, but she galloped out pretty well, which is a nice thing to see when you're going to go a little longer next time,” Delacour said.
Hawksmoor staved off a furious rally from Viva Vegas, winning by a half-length. The Ignacio Correas, IV-trained Viva Vegas is expected to return in the Hillsborough, with both bracing from a challenge from the Chad Brown-trained French-bred Rymska, who defeated Hawksmoor in last year's Grade III Athenia at Belmont.
Hawksmoor, a career millionaire who competes under the Jacksons' Lael Stables banner, is one of a collection of graded-stakes winners Delacour has trained for the couple, who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby with Barbaro.
That group includes homebred Divining Rod, who won the Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes in 2015 and finished third in that year's Xpressbet.com Preakness, won by Triple Crown champion American Pharoah; another homebred, No Dozing, who won last fall's Grade III Bold Ruler Handicap at Aqueduct; the 5-year-old mare Chalon, a multiple-stakes winner who finished second in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint; and multiple graded-stakes winner Ageless.
It might seem a cliché to hear the Jacksons and Delacour described as “doing right by the horse,” but observers would be hard-pressed to find a single example when they haven't.
“I feel very fortunate to train racehorses for them. They've been in the game a long time and know there are a lot of ups and downs,” Delacour said. “They understand what it takes to compete at this level –that each race is a challenge, and you need races to get to where you're going. They understand the process of training and developing a horse.”
Delacour acknowledges Hawksmoor might not have as quick a turn of foot as the very best turf fillies and mares in training, but says she is coming into the Hillsborough at least as well as she did for the Lambholm South Endeavour.
The decision has been made to retire her, win or lose, and Delacour can only hope he gets to train her offspring.
“She's just a happy filly, all the time,” he said. “She's always very energetic and bounces back well from her breezes and her races. She's a great eater who never leaves an oat.
“It's been a privilege and an honor to train her.”
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