NEWCASTLE jockey Blake Spriggs is studying for the most important 2½ minutes of his life.
Spriggs will ride Sir John Hawkwood in the $3 million Caulfield Cup on Saturday.
The John Thompson-trained eight-year-old, which gave Spriggs and owner Paul Fudge their first group 1 win in The Metropolitan on October 1, has drawn barrier five in 2400-metre feature.
In a high-powered race with the stakes sky high, one decision may be the difference between success and failure.
Spriggs left school at the end of year nine to start an apprenticeship with Steve Hodge.
Saturday presents a bigger test than any tertiary exam.
The Caulfield Cup, first run in 1879, has eluded Hunter jockeys.
Greats Robert Thompson, Wayne Harris and Bill Wade have ridden in but never won the prized handicap.
Spriggs, 24, rode Sir John Hawkwood in trackwork around the tricky Caulfield layout on Tuesday and had his first look at the course under race conditions, when eighth on the Fudge-owned King Of England on Wednesday.
“I started doing the Caulfield Cup form on Wednesday night,” Spriggs said. “The owner also does a lot of the analysis himself.
“We go through the video together and come up with a plan to put in place.
“We have a plan A and a plan B, and hope we can attack the race the right way.”
As well as his own research, Spriggs will seek advice from long-time mentor Harris, and fellow former top-liner Steve Burridge, who is also his Godfather.
“I will have a chat with Wayne and Steve, who is a leading trainer in Singapore nowadays,” Spriggs said.
“Steve was good rider in his day and rode the winner of an Oakleigh Plate at Caulfield.
“He knows the track well and it is a tricky track.”
Trainer Thompson said “the theory is just to bring him away ... that's all he needs.’’
"Blake Spriggs knows him very well and he said he's in the zone," he said.
Spriggs, who has finished out of a place once in 10 rides on Sir John Hawkwood, said the draw in five was “spot on”.
“It gives us the opportunity to ride the horse the way we want to,” he said.
“If we drew wide we get dictated to where we are going to be.
“Provided he jumps well, he should be in a handy position.
“We do have to keep the Melbourne Cup in mind so we can’t go firing him up and do anything silly.
“We will try and keep him as relaxed as we can, but putting him in a winning position.”
We do have to keep the Melbourne Cup in mind so we can’t go firing him up and do anything silly. We will try and keep him as relaxed as we can, but putting him in a winning position.
Favourite Jameka has drawn wide in gate 13, while overseas raider Scottish came up with gate seven and Real Real Love leaves from stall 10.
“When you watch any Caulfield Cup there is always high pressure into the first turn,” Spriggs said.
“Everyone is trying to find a spot running down the short straight for the first time.
“That is something I have to be aware of, make sure he doesn’t get into the bustle and is pushed around.”
Spriggs said Sir John Hawkwood, which normally has three weeks between runs, had settled well since arriving in Melbourne.
“He had a canter on Wednesday to keep him ticking over,” the jockey said.
“Then we took him to the beach for two reasons; to mentally stimulate him and it’s like having an ice bath down here with the colder water, which is good for his older legs.
“He absolutely loves it and we are trying to keep him in that happy place.
“On Friday morning he will have a canter to stretch his legs. I may even go out there in the afternoon and give him a walk.
“He has done a good job for me, so to go and spend a bit of time with him is a good feeling.’’
Trained by Ciaron Maher, Jameka finished second to the brilliant Hartnell in the Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington last start.
“Any sort of form around Hartnell is looking hard to beat at the moment,” Spriggs said.
“If he was in the race he would start odds-on.
“You have to respect that form and she is one who has finished quite close to him.
“I think a horse like Real Love can run a good race and Tarzino is a derby winner.
“I have respect for 99 per cent of the field.
“Any of them can win it.
“A lot of people are looking to Real Love.
“The two times we have met her, he should have beaten her in Queensland in a Group 3 race but didn’t get out until late.
“Then we met in the Brisbane Cup and beat her home there.
“It gives me a bit of confidence that people are starting to tip her because I genuinely believe our horse is a better horse. ”
The weather forecast is for up to five millimetres of rain on Saturday, which Spriggs welcomed.
“Our bloke doesn’t like it rock hard,” he said.
“Caulfield can get very firm. It would be great if we got a little bit of rain to take the edge off the track.
“He won the Metrop on a good 3 the other day and seemed to handle it OK.
“Having a little bit of cut out of the ground, it will help his legs pull up a bit better for the Melbourne Cup.”
- Read James Gardiner’s feature story about Blake Spriggs in Saturday’s Weekender.