John Hawkes rode the first winner he ever trained. It was at Strathalbyn in South Australia in 1971 and even Hawkes could not have imagined the heights he would reach in Australian racing over the next four decades.
“I only had two horses in work at the time,” he recalled. “That was in an era when you could hold a dual licence [train and ride] in South Australia but they stopped that at the end of the 1970-71 season so I had to make a choice. I decided to train.”
Within a year of deciding to train full-time, he was winning a string of Group One races with his first top-class galloper, the champion filly Toltrice who won the 1972 Thousand Guineas, Wakeful Stakes and Victoria Oaks.
Based in Adelaide at the time, Hawkes always seemed to have a good horse in the stable over the years. After Toltrice came Galena Boy (Victoria Derby), Runyon (Perth Cup), Goodwood Handicap winners Lord Galaxy and Cameronic, outstanding filly Pride Of Ingenue and juvenile sensation New Logic.
He moved to Melbourne in 1989 and trained for Jack and Bob Ingham out of Carbine Lodge at Epsom before four years later he took over the Inghams’ racing empire when appointed head trainer at Warwick Farm.
Hawkes is now acknowledged as one of the all-time great racehorse trainers with a record remarkable for its longevity and sheer consistency. He has won 10 national trainers’ premierships, nine Sydney premierships, a six-time leading Group One trainer and nine-time leading stakes-winning trainer.
He has prepared a string of champions over the past two decades including two Horse of the Year winners, Octagonal and Lonhro, has led in more than 5000 race winners, including 98 Group One successes, and was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2004.
A study of his training record also underlines his versatility. Hawkes has proven his ability to train sprinters, middle distance gallopers and stayers, two and three-year-olds, classic winners and weight-for-age performers.
Octagonal, who won 10 Group One races and nearly $6 million prizemoney, was a champion every season he raced. He won the 1995 Group One AJC Sires Produce Stakes as a two-year-old and was unluckily beaten when second in the Golden Slipper the same year. Next season Octagonal won the Cox Plate, defeating a crack field of older, more proven gallopers, then completed a unique Grand Slam of Group One successes the following autumn when he won the Canterbury Guineas, Rosehill Guineas, Mercedes Classic and AJC Australian Derby. Octagonal remains the only horse to win the coveted triple crown (Canterbury Guineas, Rosehill Guineas, AJC Australian Derby) since the Derby was switched from spring to autumn in 1979.
As a four-year-old, Octagonal returned to win the Chipping Norton Stakes, Australian Cup and a second successive Mercedes Classic, before being retired to stud.
His most notable achievement as a stallion was siring Lonhro, an 11-time Group One winner of almost $6 million prizemoney.
A consummate weight-for-age galloper, Lonhro was magnificently placed by Hawkes during a race career that continued until the end of his five-year-old season. Lonhro seemed to get better and more dominant with each preparation and will be remembered for some incredible wins _ his last-to-first effort in the 2001 Caulfield Guineas, his magnificent win over the mighty Sunline in an epic 2002 Yalumba Stakes, the phenomenal speed and power he displayed to win the 2003 and 2004 George Ryder Stakes, and an unforgettable performance to overcome severe interference and win the 2004 Australian Cup.
Apart from Octagonal and Lonhro, there have been numerous top class racehorses to emerge from the Hawkes stables including Unworldly, Accomplice, Arena, Over, Guineas, Shame, Viscount, Freemason, Niello, Railings, Mnemosyne, Forensics, Camarilla, Paratroopers, Fiumicino, Mentality, Real Saga and rising star Love Conquers All.
Hawkes is renowned as a workaholic who has devoted his life to the thoroughbred. His days start at 4am and he is usually the last to leave the stables each day, sometimes as late as 8pm.
“Climbing the mountain and getting to the top is difficult but staying there is much harder,” Hawkes once said.
“Racing is so competitive these days, there are a lot of good trainers, and it takes a lot of hard work behind the scenes to stay there and not start sliding down the other side.”
Meticulous by nature, Hawkes sets high standards for himself and his stable staff. He seems to live by the maxim “the harder you work, the luckier you get”.
For as long as he can remember, Wayne always imagined a career in racing. He never considered any other vocation.
He would spend many hours at his father’s Adelaide stables before and after school, learning about and admiring the thoroughbred. When he completed his schooling, his real “education” began in horse racing, learning as much as he could about all facets of the racing industry. He first went to work at the late Colin Hayes’ famous Lindsay Park stables in the Barossa Valley before he had stints working for a farrier, equine dentist, veterinarian, float operator, saddle maker and yearling sales company just to learn the ropes.
“It was more like a continuation of school than work,” Wayne said. “But it was inevitable I would eventually work with my father. I never really thought about doing anything else.”
By the mid 1990s, Wayne had worked his way up to manage his father’s Flemington operation for the Inghams’ all-powerful Crown Lodge stables. He remains the family’s representative at Flemington to this day.
Although the Team Hawkes training partnership was officially sanctioned in 2008, Wayne said the successful training systems that were first put in place 15 years earlier at Crown Lodge remain the blueprint for the stable’s continued success.
Wayne also admits working with family has some advantages and disadvantages. “Sometimes it is not easy working with family, but in tough times you can’t beat family support and strength!”
As a young man, Michael began working after school and at weekends with his father at Epsom. “I had been going down to dad’s stables for as long as I can remember, doing some work after school. When it’s in your blood … I just love working with the horses.”
His education continued in Sydney when his father took up the role of head trainer for the Inghams at Warwick Farm. “On the job experience with Dad, being one of the best ever trainers, is a huge advantage”.
When the position of foreman at the satellite stable in Brisbane became vacant, the 21 year old Michael leapt at the chance. In nine full seasons Michael proved his maturity and love of working with horses by taking out two premierships. He was runner up five times, with a third and a fifth place to round it off. Michael found it a natural way of life.
Some of Michael’s best remembered wins in Brisbane include a quinella in the Stradbroke Cup (1. Crawl and 2. Hire), two derby winners in Freemason and Toulouse Latrec, Sires Produce winner Ambulance, and Freemason in the TJ Smith Classic.
When the family established a training partnership in 2008, Michael returned to Sydney to take charge of Rosehill Gardens, working alongside his father.
“Dad has always had an unbelievable memory when it comes to his horses. When we were at Crown Lodge, dad would work his 110 horses, then talk to Wayne with his 60 in Melbourne and me with 55 in Brisbane, and the 30 we had in Adelaide, and he’d know every horse back to front. He still does and that’s what has made him so successful.
“I suppose you could say dad is the brains and Wayne and I are the youth. I think it is a pretty good partnership. We are lucky we have each other.”