Kalashnikov hits target to secure landmark victory for Murphy at Newbury
Big Saturday winners have come thick and fast this year for female riders and this weekend marked only a slight shift from the usual narrative as Amy Murphy, the 25-year-old Newmarket horsewoman who is the youngest trainer in Britain, saddled the superb Kalashnikov for a dominant victory in the Betfair Hurdle.
The freezing drizzle which fell on Newbury from the moment gates opened meant horses were coming home more mud than mammal and that conditions were not ideal for Kalashnikov, who had suffered his only defeat in four previous starts on heavy ground at Sandown.
Ridden by Jack Quinlan, the other half of a youthful trainer-jockey combination, Kalashnikov did not look to be particularly relishing the stamina-sapping ground when pushed along by the halfway stage, but he never stopped responding to his rider's encouragement.
After taking up the lead approaching the last, he stayed on resolutely to see off the challenge of Willie Mullins' Bleu Et Rouge, only the Irish champion trainer's seventh runner in Britain this campaign, with Spiritofthegames, Coeur Blimey, Remiluc and Lough Derg Spirit following on for each-way punters.
Jenkins, the 8-1 co-favourite with Kalashnikov and Kayf Grace (12th), cut out much of the early running but fell away in the closing stages to finish 16th.
Kalashnikov's Cheltenham target has yet to be fixed but the most likely destination appears the Sky Bet Supreme Novices', although the rather more daunting Mullins' runner Getabird lurks there.
The winner was generally cut to 8-1 (from 16) for the festival opener, while his price for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle ranges from 8-1 to 16-1.
"I think we'll stick to the Supreme, he's given us no reason to go anywhere else and I think he has to stick to two miles for now," said Murphy.
"The better ground will suit him 100 per cent. He's got this beautiful action. Look at him, there's not a bother on him."
Quinlan added: "He's just so tough and so brave in those conditions. He's maturing all the time and is only a five-year-old.
"We've loved him from day one and he's improved every single time. You can see the size of him and how well he's jumped out of that ground. He's going to be even better over fences."
Owner Paul Murphy, Amy's father, was in South Africa during the race, making it a perfect four wins for four that he has missed seeing – in true sod's law fashion, the only race Murphy snr was present for was that second last time out in the Tolworth at Sandown.
That will have been unlikely to have dampened celebrations in the slightest, however, as the Betfair Hurdle not only allowed Kalashnikov to burnish his growing reputation but also paid handsome tribute to the talents of his handler, who began training only in 2016. The small fact it is Britain's richest handicap hurdle, worth £155,000, will not have hurt either.
"It's great to have a horse of his calibre this early," said Murphy. "Huge credit goes to my team at home, we're only a small team but they've been churning out the winners over the last few weeks and hopefully people begin to take note.
"Jack is very underrated too, he needs only the right horse and he can go and do it. He's formed a partnership with this horse from day one and he's been the making of him too."
Members’ Club Ultimate subscribers can read our Grand National Pricewise ante-post special exclusively online the night before publication in the paper. Not a member? Enjoy your first month free when you subscribe using promo code FREETRIAL. Find out more here