Chautauqua might be a dominant favourite and the highest-rated horse running at Moonee Valley on Saturday but co-trainer Wayne Hawkes believes the star sprinter could be vulnerable.
Kicking off his spring campaign in Saturday’s Group 2 McEwen Stakes (1000m), the five-year-old has drawn barrier 12 in the capacity field of 15.
Despite the son of Encosta de Lago being rated the $2.15 favourite with Crownbet on Thursday, Hawkes – who trains in partnership with his father Wayne and brother Michael – said the size of the task facing Chautauqua shouldn’t be underestimated.
“He’s never been over 1000, he’s never raced at Moonee Valley and he’s drawn a terrible gate so he’s got a few question marks to overcome,” he said.
“Had he drawn a better barrier he’d be able to sit three lengths closer in the run.
“It’s the difference between winning and losing drawing bad barriers, but the horse is great.”
Having recorded his maiden Group 1 victory with a last-to-first triumph in the T.J. Smith Stakes (1200m) at Randwick, Chautauqua hasn’t raced since he finished third in the All Aged Stakes (1400m) in April.
Team Hawkes will also be represented in the McEwen Stakes by speedy three-year-old Headwater and Hawkes said he was similarly disappointed by the son of Exceed And Excel drawing barrier 13.
“It’s disappointing that both horses have drawn where they have,” he said.
“Headwater is going very well but it’s going to make things very tough for him from that barrier.”
An impressive winner over 1000m on debut at Moonee Valley in December, Headwater resumed as a three-year-old with a seventh placing in the San Domenico Stakes (1100m) at Rosehill.
He is rated a $20 chance with Crownbet, with fellow three-year-old Furnaces and multiple Group 1 placegetter Kuro sharing second favouritism behind Chautauqua at $7.