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  • Provincial Racing NSW


THE 1400m Class 1 Handicap at a rain-shortened Newcastle meeting on Saturday appeared nothing special beforehand.

But in the end the result, albeit on a “Heavy 10” track, gave it a distinctive touch indeed.

On the day well-known Newcastle racing identity Kevin Burns passed away at Grafton at 84 years of age, trainer David Atkins prepared the winner from the very same stable which housed the former trainer’s feature winners such as Sound Of Bells and Moss Rocket (pictured).

Atkins, who won the race with the well-backed $2.90 favorite Scholl Deep (Ben Looker), answered a call from Burns 30 years ago to move from Maitland to join him at his Broadmeadow barn when the talented sprinter Moss Rocket was a late three-year-old.

“Kevin had heart trouble, and I took Moss Rocket to Melbourne for a number of campaigns,” he recalled.

“He was a very smart horse. I rode him work and would love to have a horse like him now.

“Moss Rocket won both the Challenge and Expressway Stakes at Royal Randwick in early 1995, and then ran third to All Our Mob and Hareeba in the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap at Flemington.

“Later that year he also won The Shorts at Randwick and Chirnside Stakes at Caulfield before being narrowly beaten in the Moir Stakes at Moonee Valley.”

Burns especially loved winning races at his home track. He celebrated landing the 1986 Group 3 Cameron Handicap with Sound Of Bells (after whom he named his stables in Dumaresq Street), and seven years later the Group 3 Coca-Cola Classic with then two-year-old Moss Rocket, who three weeks later also captured the Brambles Classic at Kembla Grange.

Moss Rocket subsequently ran fifth, after tearing out with a decent lead, to Bint Marscay in the Group 1 Golden Slipper Stakes at Rosehill Gardens.

Former Newcastle Jockey Club director Anthony Hall, who raced Moss Rocket, and Burns were good friends.

“Kevin not only trained but also worked for the NJC for many years as a carpenter and handyman,” Hall said.

“He and his late wife Joan moved to Grafton about 20 years ago.

“Kevin shifted to Tenterfield for a while, but went back to Grafton in recent years.”

Atkins had booked leading Northern Rivers jockey Ben Looker to ride both his Newcastle acceptors (three-year-old filly Rockbarton Angel didn’t get the chance to start in the sixth race as the meeting was called off after the fourth), but admitted to being hesitant on race morning about starting Scholl Deep because of continuing rain.

“She hadn’t won in four starts on soft ground, and had never raced on a heavy track,” Atkins said.

“But it wasn’t an overly strong field with only six rivals, and she had been racing consistently and was fit.

“When Ben was able to get a comfortable lead after Scholl Deep began a bit awkwardly, she never looked in danger.”

Atkins prepares the three-year-old Kermadec filly for Newcastle businessman Matt Chidgey, and also trained her dam, the Lonhro mare Lohgairo (a daughter of 10-times winner Air She Goes) for the last eight of her 14 starts.

“We won a couple of races with her at Taree and Cessnock, but she wasn’t a good eater,” he said.

Atkins also has Scholl Deep’s older half-brother Promitto (by 2016 Group 1 Caulfield Guineas winner Divine Prophet), who won his first two starts, including the 2022 Group 2 Skyline Stakes at Randwick, as a two-year-old.

He looked an exciting prospect, but hasn’t been successful in 13 subsequent starts, although he ran third to now retired warhorse Cascadian and Hawkesbury Gold Cup and also Saturday’s Eagle Farm winner Just Folk, in the Group 3 Craven Plate (1800m) at Randwick as an early three-year-old.

The now four-year-old gelding is back in work, and has won both his latest trials over 1000m, at Newcastle on May 8 and Gosford on May 27.

“I don’t get carried away with trials, but hopefully Promitto has come back well,” Atkins said.

“He’ll resume at Canterbury on Monday week (June 10) in a Benchmark 88 Handicap (1100m).

. After jockeys raised concerns about deteriorating track conditions and visibility after the fourth race at Newcastle, RacingNSW stewards were satisfied the remaining four races could not safely be run.

Story John Curtis, June 1, 2024 - Pics Bradley Photos

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