Cheltenham Festival runner-up Kalashnikov has been on most people’s list of horses to follow this season and he lived up to expectation when making a winning start to his chasing career, landing the feature £50 Risk Free On Racing with Smarkets Novices’ Chase at Warwick’s Sporting Icon Raceday on Friday, writes David Hucker.
Very much the star of Amy Murphy’s Newmarket stable, Kalashnikov has been touted as the winner of the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy at next year’s Festival and he got the job done here in the hands of Jack Quinlan, recovering from a mistake at the open ditch to fly the fence after and put up a solid display on his first run over the bigger obstacles.
“That was the fastest he would have jumped fences and he made a couple of novicey mistakes,” said Quinlan. “It was a big learning curve today, but he has done it well and, hopefully, there are bigger things to come.”
Murphy described her stable star as being only 85 per cent fit and having had “a nice blow” after the race. She plans a steady campaign with just two more runs before tackling the big race in March.
There was drama at the first flight in the opening Smarkets Betting Exchange Juvenile Hurdle, with Carnage falling and bringing down another outsider in Keynote..
Up front, odds-on favourite Elysees, the choice from three entries for in-form trainer Alan King, was struggling to keep tabs on leader Bodes Well. Pushed along by Wayne Hutchinson down the back straight, he led on the turn for home and, with his stamina kicking in, quickly put the race to bed to beat debutant Isaac Wonder.
The following novices hurdle saw the experienced De Name Evades Me set the standard on his second to the useful Dinons at Cheltenham last month and punters sent him off the 10-11 favourite to go one better.
Although beaten 14 lengths, the winner was completing a five-timer that day and De Name Evades Me duly stepped up, going past leader Balach Mor at the penultimate flight and staying on to deny Captain Cargo.
One of the features of the season has been the resurgence of trainer Philip Hobbs who, after posting four consecutive centuries, managed only 63 winners in 2017/18.
He came into Friday’s meeting with 31 on the board already for the current campaign and added to his tally when Tom O’Brien brought Master Work to join leader Chief Brody at the final flight in the Smarkets Handicap Hurdle and came away on the run-in for a two-length success.
The three miles and a furlong trip for the Smarkets Handicap Chase proved just right for Gardiners Hill who was returning to fences after a good run over hurdles at Ffos Las last time before Jarlath repeated his win of 12 months ago when landing the smarkets.com Handicap Chase to give O’Brien a riding double on the day.