Things We Learned » Kalashnikov deserves shot at Supreme

Kalashnikov deserves shot at Supreme

Kalashnikov put up a big performance on Saturday at Newbury to win the Betfair Hurdle.

Not that novices don’t do well in the race, the most valuable handicap hurdle run in Britain.  On the contrary, they do very well.  They are the unexposed horses, the ones who have the potential to be ahead of the handicapper, and last year two novices, Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes, finished first and second.

But this year’s race was a thorough test, run, as it was, on heavy ground and at an unforgiving gallop.  It was all too much for the majority of the young, unexposed horses.  Lalor finished 13th, Jenkins finished 16th, Waterlord was pulled up, Divin Bere was pulled up, Irish Roe was pulled up.

Historically, it is a race in which five-year-olds do well.  There had been six five-year-old winners of the race in the previous 11 renewals.  Now there have been seven in the last 12.  However, the next best five-year-old finisher after Kalashnikov on Saturday was Zalvados, who finished seventh.  There were seven five-year-olds in the 24-runner race, and only two of them finished better than 14th.

As well as that, Zalvados had the minimum weight of 10st on his back.  Kalashnikov carried 11st 5lb.  That was a fair burden in such a high-class handicap for such an inexperienced horse.

He had to dig deep too.  Jack Quinlan started to squeeze him along going around the home turn, and it is a long way from the top of the home straight to the winning line at Newbury on heavy ground, especially if they have gone as hard as they did go on Saturday from early. 

He got in tight to the second last flight, and it appeared as if Bleu Et Rouge was travelling better, having crept his way there, Barry Geraghty unanimated in the JP McManus hoops.  But Amy Murphy’s horse found enough on the run-in to withstand Willie Mullins’ horse’s gallant effort, with the pair of them coming nicely clear. 

It was some training performance by Amy Murphy, fresh-faced and sparkling in the Newbury gloom; a 25-year-old trainer who learned her trade with Gai Waterhouse and Luca Cumani and Tom Dascombe and who is now plying her own; a National Hunt (and flat) trainer based in Newmarket. 

Looking to the (immediate) future, specifically to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which appears to be next up: Kalashnikov was winning Saturday’s race off a mark of 141, and the handicapper raised him by 13lb to a mark of 154.

There is precedent.  When Ballyandy won the Betfair Hurdle last year, he won it off a mark of 135, was raised to a mark of 147 and finished fourth behind Labaik in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. 

When Get Me Out Of Here won the Betfair Hurdle (the Totesport Hurdle as it was then) as a novice in 2010, he won it off a mark of 135.  He was raised to a mark of 150 and was beaten a head by Menorah in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. 

On that evidence, a mark of 154 is well into Supreme Novices’ Hurdle territory.

That said, when My Tent Or Yours won the Betfair Hurdle as a novice in 2012, he won it off a mark of 149, was raised to a mark of 162 and still only finished second behind Champagne Fever in a red hot Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. 

We can only (educatedly) guess at how good this year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is going to turn out to be, but there is no doubt that Kalashnikov deserves his place in it.

Altior and Native River back

Still with Newbury on Saturday, it was great to see Altior and Native River make victorious seasonal debuts.

You want to see the top class horses race and, when they do, a financial interest in that race notwithstanding, you want to see them win.  It’s great for the fans, it’s good for the sport.

Altior was just about flawless in the Game Spirit Chase.  The confidence in the ring that saw him shortened from 4/6 to an SP of 1/3 manifested itself on the racetrack.  Nicky Henderson’s horse travelled supremely well for Nico de Boinville, he did everything easily, his jumping was just about flawless.  And, when his rider gave him a little squeeze on landing over the last fence, he picked up within a matter of strides to come clear of a high-class horse in Politologue, the Tingle Creek Chase winner.

The High Chaparral gelding is now 12 for 12 over obstacles, seven for seven over fences, he hasn’t been beaten since he was beaten in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown in April 2015, and he is going to take some stopping in the Champion Chase.

Native River is a little different.  It was great to see him back, but he was more workmanlike, as is his wont.  Richard Johnson was niggling along down the back straight, and it looked like he was travelling least well of the three-strong Denman Chase field as they left the back straight, but that was only if you didn’t know the horses involved. 

You knew that Colin Tizzard’s horse would keep on finding, and he did, as first Saphir Du Rheu and then Cloudy Dream came off the bridle.  Native River never looked stronger than on the run to the winning line.

You can pick holes though if you want.  Saphir Du Rheu got tired on his seasonal debut and Cloudy Dream was a doubtful stayer on that ground over three miles.  Native River did it well, but Cheltenham is a different scenario, up and down hills and a bigger field and under greater pressure up front and on better ground.  He is a relentless galloper who stayed on to take second place behind Minella Rocco in the National Hunt Chase over four miles as a novice two years ago.

He was third in last year’s Gold Cup, but he is second favourite in most lists, and no better than 13/2, for this year’s renewal behind Might Bite, in front of Sizing John, and that just looks shorter than it should be. 

Fleming’s horses going well

Champayne Lady was an impressive winner of the mares’ maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse on Wednesday.  She travelled well through her race, and she picked up nicely on the run-in to come away from Moonlight Escape on ground that trainer Alan Fleming thought might be softer than ideal for her.

The talk afterwards was of the mares’ novices’ hurdle at Cheltenham, and why not?  A bumper winner, she had run well on her previous run at Fairyhouse three weeks earlier, this was a step up on that and she should continue to improve.

It was the latest episode in a fine run of form that Alan Fleming and owners Barry and Rory Connell are enjoying.  Wood Emery was an impressive winner of the three-mile handicap hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.  Well-backed and racing in a tongue-tie for the first time, the Califet gelding moved up nicely for Denis O’Regan at the top of the home straight to move into second place behind Swingbridge, and he picked up well on the run-in to come away and win nicely. 

Hurricane Darwin ran well in the PP Hogan Chase on Sunday on his cross-country debut, Wonderoftheworld ran well for a long way in a good race at Musselburgh the previous Sunday on his first run since October, and go back to Leopardstown the previous Saturday, when Tully East ran a cracker to finish third in the big two-mile handicap chase over a distance that was probably shorter than ideal and on ground that was probably softer than ideal.  The yellow and navy silks could be in for a lively spring.

National quality

When the Tommy Carberry-trained, Paul Carberry-ridden Bobbyjo famously won the Aintree Grand National in 1999, he earned £242,600 for his connections.  That’s apparently worth about £395,450 in today’s terms. 

When One For Arthur won the race in 2017, he earned £561,300 for his connections.  That’s an increase of 42% on the 1999 level in real terms.

Add that to the fact that the fences are not as stiff as they used to be and that the high-class horses can race off handicap ratings that are lower – significantly lower on occasion – than their true respective handicap ratings, then it makes sense that the overall level of quality of the race would go up.

Quote of the week

“All our guys are doing their own Irish ratings and that’s desperately time-consuming.  If we can get into a position, like we have on the Flat, where we can just pick up the Irish marks and maybe just tweak them by 1lb or 2lb, it’s going to save a hell of a lot of time.  And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen, even allowing for differences in weight-for-age scales.  This is the time to push on and maybe try and solve this problem once and for all.”

Dominic Gardiner-Hill, incoming Senior British Handicapper (via The Guardian)

© The Irish Field, 17th February 2018