The first Breeze Up sales have now started, the classic trials are starting and the entry book is becoming thicker by the day. All this means that the turf season is really starting in earnest now and for Kevin it’s been a pleasing start. With most of the runners running well and plenty finishing in the frame, the horses are showing that pre-season has gone well and they are fighting fit and well. Despite so many placed efforts, the first turf winner was proving to be elusive but Kajaki made up for that when winning the 1m6f Nags Head Supports Catterick Champions’ Awards Handicap at Catterick.
Kajaki had been a model of consistency in 2016, never finishing outside of the first three on all his starts. The grey had been tried over a variety of trips, from 1m2f up to 2m and run with great credit each time. He was a little unfortunate to only have the one win to his name, over 1m4f, but the season had been positive and it looked as though there could be more to come with another year on his back.
With a clear run of weather most of the horses at Hambleton Lodge have come to hand very quickly and Kevin has had his head in the entry book finding all the suitable races. The 1m6f Handicap looked perfect for Kajaki so the 4 year old was set his first target of the year. Kevin Stott took the ride, the first time the pair would be matched together and they got off to the ideal start.
Catterick is well known to suit horses up with the pace so early on the leaders went a good gallop, a trait that is usually seen at the track. This gave Kevin the ideal opportunity to tuck in and get a lead, positioning Kajaki just behind the leaders, sitting around 4th or 5th in the pack. With a nice toe into the early part of the race Kajaki dropped the bridle and travelled nicely, easily able to go the gallop and happy to follow his rivals.
The fifteen runners all filtered into their positions and there was a good distance from first to last as they were almost in single file. The tight, turning track meant the jockeys wanted to stay as tight to the rail as possible. Kevin had the perfect sit and with little to change, he was always in the ideal position.
Many of the field were having the first start of the season and the leaders were making sure it was going to test all of their fitness levels. The grey looked happy with the way the race was being run but he too would need to put all his home work to use come the business end of the contest.
It was well over half a mile out when the first movements were made, with some of the back markers looking to close the gap. The leaders continued on the turn and were beginning to wind up the pace. Kevin matched their move and got Kajaki to open up his stride and move forward with the increase in tempo.
Swinging around the home bend there was just over 3f to run and it was obvious that half the field had no chance, with many starting to feel the pinch. It looked like up front was the place to be and the leaders began to assert their advantage, quickening all the time and trying to increase their lead to see them home in the straight. Kajaki had always moved with relative ease to this point and still he maintained is position, with Kevin yet to make any serious move on board.
Straightening up for home the field was well spread out and the winner was only going to come from a handful of runners. Looking as though he was full of running, Kajaki was a massive danger and as they hit the 2f marker Kevin just angled out from behind horses. The pair had always been to the forefront and now it was time to challenge. With a little niggle Kajaki moved up to the new leader, Falcon’s Fire. The pair were neck and neck but the jockeys were showing differing levels of work. Kevin was patient and had yet to really go for his mount.
Punters who had backed the favourite were probably starting to count their winnings but there was still a small question over his fitness. Between the 2f and 1f poles he had drawn level with Kevin continually winding him up to stay on terms. As they closed on the final furlong it was time to press the button. Once Kevin got serious Kajaki responded immediately. Quickening up well he took the initiative and the lead. He had travelled weel all the way through the race and it looked as though any fitness worries were to be completely dispelled. With Kevin in full drive, Kajaki pulled clear quite comfortably and stretched his advantage. Under hands and heels the grey move 1 1/2 lengths clear and crossed the line to win on his seasonal return.
Kajaki is an ultra consistent performer and no horse deserves a win more than him. He travelled very well and then saw the trip out very well. He has developed again over the winter and still looks open to improvement. It was a very good win and there’s no reason to think that he can’t use this performance as a platform to bigger and better things. Owner Frank Gillespie knows how it feels to win on the big days and hopefully Kajaki can continue his progress, aiming for the better prizes throughout the season.