Hawks Bay won't be part of trainer Neil Dyer's team of horses heading to the Northern Territory next month but a crack at a third straight Darwin Cup hasn't been ruled out.
The seven-year-old makes his comeback from a suspensory ligament injury at Flemington on Saturday in the Secondbite Fresh Food Rescue Handicap (1400m).
The tough gelding had stem cell surgery when he returned to Victoria from the Top End last year after winning his second successive Darwin Cup in August.
Dyer said Hawks Bay was coming along "terrific" for his return to racing.
"Of course it's the start of a long comeback," Dyer said.
"He's been to the trials at Tatura and Wangaratta and won them both pretty well, like the old horse is still there.
"We're just having a look at his suspensory every day, just making sure nothing deteriorates."
The gelding carried 62kg to win the 2011 Darwin Cup and 64.5kg when successful by the barest of margins last year.
Kyneton-based Dyer will take a team north next month for the Darwin carnival but Hawks Bay will stay in Victoria and race.
However, with the Darwin Cup not until August, the door hasn't been closed on another shot at the race.
"He won't be going up in early June, he'll be racing here in Victoria," Dyer said.
"We'll just play it by ear, run by run."
Hawks Bay has to carry 60.5kg on Saturday when his opposition will include the promising Strawberry Boy who will be having his first start in Melbourne for new trainer Peter Moody.
Strawberry Boy is owned by John Singleton and was formerly trained by Gai Waterhouse to win four of his seven starts while also managing minor placings in the Group Three Kingston Town Stakes and Colin Stephen Quality.
Strawberry Boy was transferred to Moody several months ago, well before Singleton ended his long association with Waterhouse at Randwick last Saturday.
"He's had a couple of jumpouts at home, he's in good shape and he's obviously a horse with considerable promise that he's already shown in the past," Moody told Racing Victoria.