Last updated: 12/31/19 3:32 PM
Kalashnikov wins on Aintree under Jack Quinlan
Amy Murphy has no illusions about the role of Kalashnikov in a fascinating Paddy Power Handicap Chase in Cheltenham.
With a total prize money of £ 70,000 up for grabs, a strong field of 12 runners has gathered for the most valuable afternoon event in Prestbury Park on New Year’s Day.
Kalashnikov offers to open his account for the campaign after having entered second place in this season so far and only recently with a nose to the resurrecting Oldgrangewood in Newbury.
He is not facing an easy task under the burden of 11th 12 pounds, however, giving weight to Dan Skelton’s Oldgrangewood, Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados and Mick Channons triple race winner Mister Whitaker, among others.
Murphy said, “It’s a real race and it’s a big question under that weight, but we’re looking forward to it.
“He is in super form and it is an opportunity to give him some more course experience prior to the festival in March.
“To be honest, I’d rather run a level-weighted race, but there just isn’t a left-handed fit for him, so we’ll try and we’ll learn a little more.”
Oldgrangewood is only a pound worse off for the rematch with Kalashnikov.
Skelton’s assistant, Tom Messenger, said: “It has never been his ground when he has been to Cheltenham, so he is probably not the best shape there, but that is mainly ground-bound.
“He increased by 7 pounds for winning the last day and is disabled 142, but he has won 145, so he is still disabled to win.
“He has a good chance and he will stay up the hill as long as the ground is not too soft.”
Saint Calvados started his season at this location in October before finishing last in four – but not far defeated – behind Defi Du Seuil in Shloer Chase in November.
He steps up to two and a half miles for the first time in his career in the Cotswolds.
“It’s a great race. Saint Calvados seems to be going well and has had a good time since his last run in November, so we look forward to running it,” Whittington said.
“It’s our first trip on the trip. It’s something we’ve been planning for a while, and I think it’s the right time to do it, because he’s probably reached his limit of more than two miles.
“He is a bit older and stronger and if he improves for the longer trip, we can hopefully look at a number of larger and better goals.
“That does not mean that this is an easy race. There are some very good, progressive horses in the race, including Kalashnikov, who is one of my favorite horses outside of my own yard.
“We are looking forward to it and I think we will learn a lot.”
Mr. Whitaker has not been seen in competitive action since the landing of the second-class silver trophy in Prestbury Park last April.
Channon said: “It looks like a very good race, but he’s in good shape and we can’t be happier with him to be honest.
“It’s his first run for a while. I hope he’ll improve for the run, but at the same time I’d like to think he’s fit enough to run well – I don’t think it will be a lack of fitness that leaves him hit it, put it that way.
“He loves Cheltenham, so we’ll try.”
Other contenders are the Magic Saint trained by Paul Nicholls, Venetia Williams’ Cepage, Nicky Henderson’s Ok Corral and Ellmarie Holden’s Irish challenger Ex Patriot.
Magic Saint was last responsible for the next Desert Orchid Chase winner Bun Doran at the end of November, and jockey Harry Cobden is hoping for another daring show.
He said, “The last day he looked like he wanted two and a half (miles) and I drove him before two and a half and he was beaten, so I’m not sure what to expect in a way.
“He has a lot of weight, but I hope he is only a young horse and is still improving. It would be a fairly old achievement if he won 154.”