Kalashnikov out to shoot Newmarket to a big-race success over jumps
32Red Tolworth Novices' Hurdle l G1 l 2m l 4yo+| ITV4/ RUK
Newmarket houses its highest-profile jumps horse since the days of John Ferguson in Kalashnikov, bidding to put himself on a par with some of the Flat superstars who surround him at headquarters by extending his unbeaten run.
The five-year-old will be a first runner in a Grade 1 for the town's youngest trainer Amy Murphy and will bid to provide jockey Jack Quinlan – who was a key part of the Ferguson set up – with his biggest success since landing a Grade 2 for the Bloomfields operation on Cotton Mill at Warwick in 2012.
Ever since she first took Kalashnikov to Huntingdon for a racecourse gallop last spring, Murphy, 25, has always held him in the highest regard and that faith has not being misplaced.
After landing a big-odds gamble on his debut in a bumper at Wetherby last March, Kalashnikov has looked even better over hurdles with successive wins back at Wetherby and then at Doncaster, the second of those by ten lengths from previous winner Irish Prophecy.
Owned by her father Paul, Kalashnikov has improved since then according to the trainer, who was wowed by his latest round of schooling on the Newmarket Links on Wednesday.
She said: "It was lovely to have a horse like Kalashnikov on my hands in my first season, and now my second. He's been very professional and we expect him to stay further in time, so he won't fail on stamina grounds over this stiff two miles.
"That said, I wouldn't want to be running him over the longer trip on this ground, which is not the surface we'd have preferred as he's a good-actioned horse. His schooling on Wednesday was exceptional and he seems to be getting even better."
Many owners may have wanted to replace Quinlan with a big-name jockey for a Grade 1 race, but not the Murphys.
Amy added: "I'm excited for Jack as he's a very talented jockey and needs only a big horse to put him on the big stage.
"He rides all our jumpers and we've never had a cross word. The great thing about Jack is that he has a great racing brain and never needs instructions, so I'll leave it to him."
Western ready for shootout
Western Ryder is finally fulfilling the promise that peaked with his excellent fifth in the Champion Bumper last March and heads to Esher on a roll after back-to-back wins at Chepstow and Cheltenham.
After fluffing his lines when unseating at the third on his debut at Stratford, the rising star encountered conditions similar to those which Sandown will provide when scoring at Chepstow, before defeating a strong field at Prestbury Park. The grinding style he displayed there should stand him in good stead for this assignment.
Trainer Warren Greatrex said: "The good thing about Western Ryder is he's workmanlike and tends to get his races won and then thinks he's done enough. Like at Cheltenham, if he gets into a battle he tends to come out on top."
On his efforts since then, the trainer added: "He's in good form and the ground isn't a worry as he won on heavy at Chepstow and not many cope with that.
"He won't fail on stamina grounds as Richard Johnson says he'll get two and a half miles on good ground no problem."
Tizzard chasing follow-up
Colin Tizzard won this for the first time a year ago with the classy Finian's Oscar and is back for more with The Russian Doyen.
Assistant Joe Tizzard said of the recent Exeter winner: "We've got a nice bunch of novice hurdlers and he's up there with the best of them, so we thought we'd run here and see where we are.
"He won very nicely at Exeter, despite being green, and that was on heavy going, so he'll handle the ground. The form looks strong and he's hopefully improved so should run well."
Nicholls' turn again?
It is ten years since Paul Nicholls last won this with Breedsbreeze and he is back to try for a fifth victory with Mont Des Avaloirs, who showed he could handle extreme conditions when scoring on heavy ground at Aintree last month.
Before that the five-year-old had ended up on the floor on his jumps debut when having the race in safe keeping at Wincanton, while he had The Russian Doyen in second when winning a bumper last season.
Boy needs better pace
Firmly in the outsider category is the Tom George-trained Summerville Boy, who has five and a quarter lengths to find with Western Ryder on Cheltenham running.
George said: "They didn't go much pace that day, which didn't really suit him. He needs holding up, so hopefully they'll go a better pace this time."
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