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Hickman trades cheque book for Championships

6 min read
Having made a splash and purchased his first million-dollar yearling at the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale this week, Warwick Farm trainer Greg Hickman is hoping he can also make his mark when he tackles two Group 1 races at The Championships at Randwick this Saturday.

Cover image courtesy of Bronwen Healy

Hickman, who paid $1.05 million for a colt by Capitalist on Tuesday, will saddle up stable star Eleven Eleven (Fastnet Rock) in the G1 Heineken TJ Smith S., while outsider Rondino (Shamus Award) will carry his red, yellow and blue colours in the G1 Bentley Australian Derby.

Eleven Eleven resumes in the TJ Smith and takes on Australia's leading sprinters, including Group 1 winners Bivouac, Nature Strip (Nicconi), Eduardo (Host {Chi}), Zoutori (Zoustar), Masked Crusader (Toronado {Ire}) and September Run (Exceed And Excel).

The 4-year-old Fastnet Rock gelding's best career win may have been at Listed level, but he has earned the third highest prizemoney of any horse in the race, just over $2 million. That's a terrific return on an initial purchase price of $230,000 at the 2018 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.

Eleven Eleven has never won first-up and Hickman admits that his major target is the G1 Stradbroke H. in June, but he has been impressed by the horse's work this time in, including a recent trial win at Randwick.

"It wasn't really the plan. I was originally going to go to something easier. He's come back really well though and it will just give us a good guide about where we take him to from here," Hickman told TDN AusNZ.

"Down the track, the Stradbroke is probably in the back of my mind. I would like to send him to Queensland. He did so well in the Magic Millions races up there, and I want to get him rock-hard, fit, and then duck up there and target those races."

Eleven Eleven winning the R. Listed $1 million Pacific Fair Magic Millions Cup | Image courtesy of Bronwen Healy

A winner of seven of his 19 starts, Eleven Eleven has continued to develop and Hickman believes we may have not yet seen the best of him on raceday.

"I think he's improved a lot. With time, he's come on a lot from where he was. He's furnished out in to a horse physically, but mentally, he is a lot tougher and fitter for what is going on," he said.

"Before, he just wanted to get it all done and over with. We really struggled to get him to settle. Now he can settle wherever, and that will help him on Saturday, because in the old days he could have led this field as well as anything else in the race. But he’ll come out and be nice and relaxed and be hitting the line strongly."

It will be the 4-year-old's first attempt at a Group 1 race and Hickman says the likely rain-affected surface won't bother him.

"He doesn't mind the sting out the ground, so that will help."

Greg Hickman and James McDonald

Rondino in the Derby deep-end

Rondino, a $55,000 Inglis Classic Yearling Sale purchase for Hickman, has elevated to elite-level racing a little quicker than his stablemate, having only begun his career in late January.

This will be his seventh start, with victories at Goulburn and Hawkesbury to his credit, while he tackled the G2 Tulloch S. last week, finishing ninth.

He is triple-figure odds of winning on Saturday, but Hickman has a lot of faith in the son of Shamus Award's ability.

"I wouldn't have run him if I didn't think he was up to it. He pulled up good from the Tulloch. He's probably eaten as good as he ever has throughout this preparation. He has also had two gallops between runs, where I wouldn't always do that with a horse," Hickman said.

"I wouldn't have run him (Rondino) if I didn't think he was up to it. He pulled up good from the Tulloch." - Greg Hickman

"I'm pretty happy with him, but it’s a big step-up. If he races up to how he can race, I'm not saying he can win, but he can feature in the major prizemoney."

While his sire Shamus Award won a G1 Cox Plate and has sired a G1 Queensland Derby winner, Rondino's pedigree on the dam's side wouldn't suggest he would make a stayer. His dam Little Less Lip (Blevic) won twice over 1050 metres, while his half-sister Split Lip (Your Song) was a Listed 2-year-old winner over 1100 metres.

However, Rondino always looked a stayer on type and Hickman debuted him at 1400 metres, before building him up to 2000 metres at his past two starts.

"Normally when we say they are Derby horses, they are probably a horse that needs a big paddock. Sometimes it means they are not much good. But when you have a horse in the stable that can win two in its first preparation, you normally have something that is pretty good," he said.

"He has just progressed, and he won his first try over 2000 metres. He has just been a big, raw horse who will be a better horse in time."

The Exceedance appeal

Hickman joined in the spending splurge at the Riverside Stables this week, when he paid $1.05 million for the half-brother to Group 1 winner and now Vinery Stud stallion Exceedance.

Hickman's signature of a million-dollar lot may have surprised a few onlookers, but he was very keen to get the Capitalist colt, who was offered by Yarraman Park.

"Exceedance was a horse that was going around at the same time as Pierata and he was just a superstar. I used to follow the horse and really, really liked him," he said.

"We got a group of people who could afford to buy in to him, so that's what we did."

Lot 222 - Capitalist x Bonnie Mac (NZ) (colt) | Image courtesy of Inglis

He is the final foal out of Bonnie Mac (NZ) (Thorn Park), who has also produced recent G3 Zeditave S. winner Oxley Road (Exceed And Excel).

Like both of his half-brothers, the Capitalist colt may be a better 3-year-old than a 2-year-old according to his trainer.

"I still think he's a bit immature, when you compare him to the other colts at the Sale. But what I saw was an athlete. That's the main thing," he said.

"We won't push him, we will just go on and give him a bit of time, break him in and see how much natural ability he has got. If he has that, he’ll show us where to take him. We just hope he can gallop."

The million-dollar pricetag is not something that adds any extra pressure for Hickman, who has the colt fully sold thanks to a group of strong stable supporters.

"He's got everything going for him. But if you buy them for $2 or you buy them for $1 million, they either can gallop or they can’t," he said.

Greg Hickman
Eleven Eleven
TJ Smith Stakes
Australian Derby
Bonnie Mac