Revelation is maybe going a bit too far but Mount Tahan has certainly taken his form to a new level in the last few months with some impressive displays. Having won twice and finished runner up twice since November, Tahan has seen his handicap mark steadily rise and his opposition getting stronger. This time around he had to face some of his toughest rivals, off a career high mark and over a brand new trip. Despite these factors pitting everything against him, Mount Tahan cut through the field to take the 1m4f Betway Handicap at Wolverhampton.
Stepping up to 9 1/2f has really helped Tahan find a consistent run of form. One of the main reasons for his upturn is that he has mentally matured, learning to relax in his races. This new trait has allowed Tahan to travel smoothly and unleash a good turn of foot. All his performances have played off the same tactic to slowly work into the race before making a challenge in the home straight.
Following his two wins, Tahan was facing his highest handicap mark when stepping back into a class 2 handicap. Although he had already won a race of this caliber, he lined up as second favourite to the unexposed Star Archer. The race was a muddling affair with a sedate gallop. Tahan travelled nicely at the rear of the field and made his usual move round the home bend to close up. Swinging into the home straight the leader, and eventual winner, Star Archer kicked off the steady pace to sprint clear. By the time Mount Tahan had straightened up he was down around 3 lengths. Although he quickened up well and did close the gap, the winner had gained a decisive advantage which could not be reeled in. It was another strong performance but one that confirmed to Kevin that his gelding may appreciate a greater test of stamina. All of Tahan’s best work was coming closer to the line.
The Winter Derby was an option for a little while but it was felt that a step up to 1m4f would be the best option. As soon as the decision was made, the perfect option came along with the class 2 Betway Handicap at Wolverhampton, a track he had been prolific at. Having gone up to a new mark of 100, Tahan would face 6 rivals and be giving weight away to most. Although he had won a similar event, this race looked stronger on paper. Favourite Celestial Spheres was looking for the hat-trick and like Tahan, was on a real roll. There were a couple in the field who had pattern form, so Mount Tahan was set some tough questions on his first start over 12f.
Shane Gray has a win and a 2nd on board Tahan and was in the saddle again to improve on this record. Although there didn’t look to obvious pace, the tactics would remain the same for Mount Tahan as this suits his running style. Even if he had wanted to go forward, Shane would have struggled with Tahan jumping slightly awkwardly. Looking to anchor in behind, Shane would have been delighted to see the two horses drawn widest, Soldier In Action and Celestial Spheres, move forward to set the early fractions. The pace was strong and immediately stretched the field out. Tahan was sat with just the outsider behind him and settled into a rhythm.
For the first couple of furlongs the pace was strong until the field settled into their positions. The two leaders now slowed it slightly as they rounded the first bend, which would be the home bend next circuit, this allowed the field to close up. Suddenly the change of pace caught Tahan out and he wanted to remain in his stride. With daylight in front he began to take a keen hold, threatening to run away with Shane. Sensing the danger Shane put the brakes on. This allowed a few rivals to move a length up on him but more importantly it opened a gap in behind. Shane angled left to sit in behind Al Hamdany, a move which immediately got Tahan to drop the bit and settle once more. With this moment of worry over, the race began pan out perfectly with little to think about for the next 3/4 of a circuit.
With the favourite keeping the leader honest, Shane knew where the main dangers were and could keep an eye on them throughout the contest. Tahan travelled very well and when the tempo increased once more, down the back straight he matched it will ease. With just over 1/2mile to run the race started to wind up and although there was not big moves the jockeys were just readying themselves for when the race did really heat up. Tahan has shown a real liking for the midlands track and for a big horse he moves around the tight turns with relative ease, maintaining his balance and stride. Shane was riding him with confidence, knowing that he could make up ground when he wanted, if good enough.
The complexion of the race changed as the leader hit the 3f marker. Favourite Celestial Spheres now began to force the issue and suddenly the two began to pick up the pace from the front. This move helped to whittle down the field as the 3 market outsiders began to struggle and weaken. Shane still sat quietly and with Al Hamdany directly in front of him he waited to see what his rival would do. His rival began to move up to close on the leaders heading into the bend, giving Tahan a lovely toe into the race. Sitting in the slip stream, Shane just let out a bit of rein to allow his mount to move up on the tail of Al Hamdany.
Swinging around the home bend was when the favourite made his move and quickly took the lead passing the 2f marker. The long time leader couldn’t maintain their challenge so it was left to the closers to try and take the win. Mount Tahan was now in uncharted territory, with the stamina questions now starting to flash. He had moved up dangerously with Al Hamdany and with Shane yet to move it seemed as though he was full of running. Obviously it was now crunch time and everyone was going to see whether 1m4f was just a step too far. Angling to the right, Shane now pulled Tahan into daylight towards the centre of the track. Any worries were soon dispelled as Mount Tahan showed his turn of foot to quicken into contention.
Mount Tahan’s wins have all come from his turn of foot putting the race to bed when the jockey chooses. This was not going to be the case here and although he did quicken when asked, his rivals were not weakening. The favourite was finding more in front for pressure and Al Hamdany was hitting top gear. Shane had kept a little in his locker and as they moved into the final furlong, vying for the lead, he went for the final flourish. Now he gave Tahan a couple of flicks to get the last push and his partner responded. Despite edinging left he moved past Al Hamdany who’s challenge was petering out. Now he was nose to nose with Celestial Spheres but it was clear there was only one winner out of the two. Mount Tahan had momentum and was now just hitting full speed. The favourite had no answer as Tahan swept through in the final 100 yards. Stretching out all the way to the line, Mount Tahan recorded his third win at Wolverhampton with a strong 1/2 length victory.
This win was certainly his most impressive as Mount Tahan had to face quite a few uncertainties. Trip was the main one but he answered that with ease, seeing out the extra 2f and finishing strongly. Celestial Spheres was a worthy favourite who came into the race in fine form but Mount Tahan beat him fair and square, giving 6lb to the runner up. Finally it was another new career high mark for Tahan. He was giving weight to all bar one and it didn’t affect him. Going forward it is going to be really exciting looking at the options for Mount Tahan. This win has opened up many more paths and it could be argued that he may even get a little further, having galloped all the way through the line. Obviously the strong pace did suit so this may be something that plays into Kevin’s thinking. Dropping to 1m2f would give him more chance of finding that gallop but further gives Tahan the chance to travel and move through the gears. With the turf season just around the corner Kevin has the option of two surfaces now but it will be interesting as to what trip is ideal for Tahan when he does return to the turf. The most likely option at present is Good Friday finals day at Lingfield. The 1m2f Easter Classic offers £125,000 to the winner so it is a pot well worth going for. It would mean a drop in trip but a strong gallop would almost be guaranteed and Lingfield does give chances to horses coming from off the pace. Unfortunately the only other race at the meeting is the marathon but that is over 1m7f so is probably just a little too far in distance. Whatever Kevin chooses he will ensure that Tahan has the best possible chance of maintaining this great purple patch.