VJ Day provided a few firsts when he took the 6f 32 Red Casino Handicap at Newcastle. He was breaking his duck, earning his first career victory. It was the first time Kevin had trained a winner for owners Aquis Farm. Finally it was the first time Kevin had trained a winner by the sire War Front, in fact VJ Day is the only progeny that has been at the yard. All of these factors made his win that little bit more important and it was great for the 3yr old to confirm the promise shown from his previous runs.
From the moment VJ Day arrived at the yard he took the eye of everyone, a really striking colt who was a very good physical. Once he got to working he showed that it wasn’t all just about looks and he seemed like potentially a smart juvenile. That was certainly confirmed when Kevin gave him his first entry, a maiden at York’s Dante meeting. Everybody knows Kevin’s record at York so it was no surprise to see the punters latch on to it and duly sent him off favourite for his debut. It was a run full of promise but also full of immaturity so it seemed that he would improve for the run and he would be winning in the near future. His next run was the opposite to his first. This time he was smartly away, travelling well but again he weekend towards the end of the race. Rather than be disappointed it seemed like VJ Day just didn’t have the pace for 6f and he would appreciate a sterner test. His third and final start of his 2yr old season was over 7f at Musselburgh and with experience in the bag Kevin was confident he could get the first win on the board. Again he travelled strongly, moving up easily around the 2f marker before bursting into the lead. it seemed that the race was his but unfortunately he again weakened in the last furlong. It was still a good third place but it became clear that VJ Day was just not the refined and finished article, maybe he was still weak and would do better next year.
Over the winter VJ Day was gelded and he came back into training looking like a man, filling out his frame which had again grown. Once he got back up to full working speed it was evident that the ability was there but now he looked like he would be able to carry that through his races now. Impressing on the gallop and coming along well, Kevin decided early that he would get the 3yr old out before the turf season, ensuring he would be fit and ready for a long season. There were very few races so connections had to wait until the end of February for a maiden at Wolverhampton. The race looked a bit like a match up and it proved to be, with VJ Day only second fav to Dubai Acclaim. The latter had good recent form and race fitness on his side and that certainly told as the fav made all from the front. VJ Day had settled well and looked like he was set for a big challenge when he moved through the field 2f from home. Unfortunately he couldn’t maintain his run and had to settle for second, a place that pleased everyone and was a good start.
With 4 runs in his career, VJ Day had a mark of 72 so Kevin decided that the handicap route was now the best way. This opened up plenty more options but when the race at Newcastle came along it was the obvious choice, a nice, galloping 6f. It was quite a quick turn around from his last run but he had been bouncing since and looked to be in great order. There was seven other rivals lining up for the event and although VJ Day was to be sent off 6/4 favourite it was far from an easy assignment. He was going in as the most likely improver and the one who was least exposed but his rivals had some decent form between them and most importantly some of them had done what he hadn’t, which was to have won a race.
Kevin Stott took the ride and after seeing his last run at Wolverhampton, decided to adopt the same tactics. Held up immediately from the off, VJ Day settled nicely once again, positioned at the rear of the field. There was a small split as Montague led towards the far side, whilst Branscombe led more towards the centre. VJ Day tagged on to the centre group of 4 whilst the other 3 raced towards the far side (Daze Out had reared and given up any chance). The other group of three seemed to have an edge through the early stages but the strong gallop allowed VJ to get into a nice rhythm. With his group racing in single file, Kevin kept his mount in the slip stream of his rivals.
VJ Day’s market rival was the one who was cutting out the pace and was really trying to stretch the field. It wasn’t long before they were heading down to halfway. At this point the two groups began to disperse, spreading across the track. Now they were attempting to try and close down the leader and this meant there was seven runners spread across the track. Montague was still going strongly out in front and had still yet to see a rival. As the jockeys were by one getting more animated and determined to close the gap, Kevin was still sat with his mount seemingly full of running. VJ Day was travelling very well and had moved up down towards the near side with relative ease. Having moved up on his closest rivals, VJ Day had got into contention without too much exertion so now it was up to Kevin as to when to lay down a challenge. It looked like VJ had the measure of most of his rivals as they were not getting away from him but Kevin could sense that the leader was the one. Montague had led from the gates and now kicked on to try and put his advantage to use. Now the lead grew so passing the 2f marker Kevin decided it was time to give chase. Getting lower in the saddle, Kevin asked VJ Day to quicken up and quicken he did.
Between the 2f and 1f marker VJ Day swept past the field to pull alongside the leader. Once he spotted his main danger he began to edge across the track to join him, now meaning the two were set to battle it out over on the far side. VJ Day had come through with a great burst of speed which looked to be a game changer. Credit to his rival who once joined, found a little extra under pressure. Now neck and neck, Kevin knew he might have to ask for a little bit more. For the first time Kevin went for his stick, just a couple of couple of smacks to try and find another gear. VJ Day responded immediately, changed his legs and kicked on once more. With 1/2f to run he now took over the lead and began to assert. Once he got his head in front he continued to power through and pull clear. His last 100yards was his best and VJ Day galloped all the way to and through the line, running out a 1 1/4 length winner, with a further 4 lengths back to third placed horse.
This win was very satisfying for all connected with the horse as it really confirmed what everyone thought. Last season was a learning curve and his return run was expected, with race fitness always a question mark when horses have had such a break. It was this run where the pressure was on for VJ Day as everyone was looking to see where he stood for the season ahead. He didn’t disappoint and it was an impressive performance by the way he settled, travelled strongly and then quickened up well. He won off a mark of 72 but does feel like a horse who is better than his mark. The way he can travel suggests that he could be a horse who is better once in better races. At present he looks like he is a little in between trips as he has the speed for 6f but also was strongest at the line. He will certainly get 7f but Kevin will make that decision as or when VJ Day tells him it is time. It was great to get a first win for owners Aquis Farm who sent three horses to Kevin last year for the first time. VJ Day has got the ball rolling and it won’t be long before the light blue colours are in the winner’s enclosure once again.