Although the season starts in March it is a slow burner and it is always seen that it doesn’t get going for a little longer. The Craven meeting is the week where the turf really kicks into action, with the NH culminating and some big stars starting to return to action. It is a meeting where Kevin will be busy up and down the country so heading there in form is always nice. The opening meeting at Pontefract gave the yard it’s first couple of winners in 2019 and kickstarted the season for Kevin.
This time last year Mont Kinabalu was just about to win back to back races and see his mark go up to 83. Fast forward 12 months and his poor form had seen that drop down to a very dangerous 69. Although his form had dropped off these poor runs had coincided with soft going and he had raced over the winter on the AW. Having shown a hint of a revival in the last couple of runs he headed into the 1 Mile ROA Owners’ Jackpot Handicap fit and well to try and get back to his best.
Weather has recently improved and so the going was officially Good to Firm at Pontefract. Kinabalu would line up against 11 rivals and with everything in his favour there would be no excuses now. Tom Eaves has partnered the gelding to al of his previous wins and was on board again.
Initially there was a mad dash for the lead when the stalls opened as about a quarter of the field wanted to move forward to try and dictate. The early stages proved to be going at a brisk pace which was perfect for Kinabalu. Tom allowed the rest to get on with it and just let his mount coast into the race, happy to race wherever he ended up. Once the battle for the lead was over, after the first furlong, it was Star Of Valour who ended up taking the lead. Settling down through the back straight the field were well bunched but the pace wouldn’t relent. Kinabalu raced just behind mid-division and was easily tracking the gallop.
There was no hiding place and even by halfway there were one or two of the runners struggling to maintain their position. As the leader tried to steady things up front, those close by wouldn’t allow it and ensured the pace remained strong. This was ideal for Kinabalu who comfortably handled it and held his position throughout, as they raced towards the home bend.
Between the 3f and 2f marker the field had to swing around the left handed bend. Even before they entered it they were starting to race, along way from home especially with the stiff finish in the final furlong. Those at the front end were continuing to take each other on and tried to set sail for home. This injection of more pace had a domino affect and each of the runners had to match it to keep tabs on the leaders. Tom squeezed Kinabalu along for few strides as the field just stretched out a little.
Passing the 2f marker and they straightened up for home with the race still wide open. Now Kinabalu came back on the bridle and travelled strongly chasing the leaders. Unfortunately Tom had a wall of horses in front of him but knowing his mount as well as his does he knew he needed to wait anyway. The challengers were coming from very angle and heading towards the final furlong they were spread 5 wide across the track.
Entering the last furlong Tom now had to press the button as he could wait no longer. Although he had plenty of horse underneath him he had a long route around. Edging further and further right Tom had to switch right towards the centre of the track to sweep past the leading quartet. Once in clear daylight Kinabalu picked up immediately to lay down his challenge. There was only 100 yards to run and a few lengths to make up but once asked, Kinabalu quickened up. He hit top gear in a matter of strides and ate up the ground instantly. Within 50 yards he picked up those in front of him and swept past. As they hit the line he was galloping all the way through and won with a bit in hand, more so than his 1/2 margin.
It is very nice to see Mont Kinabalu back to his best and this could prove to be a springboard for the year ahead. Ground could be the key to him and if the race is run at a good gallop he can really travel, then finish strongly. Obviously he is still below his highest mark so further wins could easily see Kinabalu back up towards that sort of grade.
With 5 runners on the card Kevin looked to have a decent hand but if there was one horse who really looked to be as close to a “good thing” it was Rathbone. The 3yr old was certainly in plenty of notebooks and he took full advantage of the opportunity when winning for the first time in the 6f A Voice For Racehorse Owners Novice Stakes.
Last season Rathbone looked like a serious juvenile in the making. The son of Foxwedge was working with the very best of them and it would have taken a brave person to back against him not winning a race. Unfortunately that is exactly what he did, rounding off the year with some good form, a mark of 87 but no win to his name. That had everbody scratching their heads in disbelief but faith was far from lost.
Over the winter Rathbone was gelded, allowing him to mature and fill his powerful physique. As soon as he was back into work it was clear that he was as good as ever and could be a well handicapped sprinter for the season ahead. Coming to hand early Kevin was keen to get him out and onto the track ASAP. The Pontefract card offered two options for Rathbone, a 0-95 Handicap or a Novice race. He would have been a leading player for the first option but Kevin felt that the Novice should give him close to a perfect way of finding the back of the net so plumped for that.
Fresh from his win earlier in the card, Tom donned the purple and yellow colours he has enjoyed so much success in. There was 9 runners set to line up and it was far from being a one horsed race. Alfred Boucher had chased home a subsequent group winner and Amplify was rated just 1lb inferior to Rathbone. Despite these strong rivals, confidence was very high that Rathbone could finally get off the mark.
Jumping from stall 4 Rathbone was quick into his stride but not forced to go on, Tom settled for fourth position. The early fractions were set by Amplify and Abate who took the lead at a brisk pace. The favourite, Alfred Boucher was a length or so off Rathbone in mid-division, so the main protagonists all had a nice enough position form the get go.
Abate took control of the race and up to the halfway point pressed on in front, giving nobody any breathing space. The outsiders were already struggling and as the favourite inched closer the race was starting to take shape. Heading to the 3f pole the field would hit the bend and entering it Tom squeezed Rathbone along to move up and edge closer to the leader. Alfred Boucher followed this move and did likewise as the pair moved up, whilst Amplify was the nearest challenger to the leader who was now under a pressure, although still looking to be going well.
Turning for home the race was on as the leading quartet kicked from the bend. Ratbone was still travelling on the bridle as his rivals were under increasing pressure. Tom had a double handful and his mount was looking full of running. Abate was still running a huge race along the rail and in between the pair Amplify was plugging away at the same pace. The favourite wasn’t making any impression and the first three now began to pull away from him.
Looming up to the 1f marker and Tom had no option but to go as now the long time leader could not take him any further. Chasing his hands and squeezing dismount Tom asked Rathbone to quicken and within a couple of strides the race was put to bed. Once he had the lead it was a case of how far as none of his rivals could match him. The win was sealed but it was going to be a close run thing for second. Tom ensured Rathbone kept up to his work but he was always striding clear with. Alfred Boucher now began to stay on up the rising ground to challenge for 2nd but the win was in the hands of Rathbone who won with as much in hand as he liked.
Finally he is off the mark and Kevin took the perfect opportunity afforded to him with Rathbone. The market had it as a 3 horse race and that is exactly what it turned out to be. Although the winning margin was 2 3/4 lengths, in reality Rathbone won with ease. He travelled well and showed a nice turn of foot when asked. In a perfect world it would have been nice to get a lead for a bit longer but this happen when he takes a step up in grade once again. He will certainly come on for this run and Kevin will now look towards the big 3yo handicaps for Rathbone. He is an exciting prospect and this was just the perfect beginning to a big season for him.