KIM Bailey has more reason than most to welcome the prospect of heavy ground on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.
Not only will conditions be the most testing since he pulled off the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle double with Master Oats and Alderbrook respectively in 1995, but they will suit First Flow in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Though the Willie Mullins-trained and Ruby Walsh-ridden Getabird is favourite for the National Hunt Festival’s traditional curtain-raiser, and unbeaten from four starts to date, Bailey holds First Flow in high regard.
Like the Irish flag-bearer, the six-year-old is unbeaten over obstacles following eyecatching wins at Lingfield, Newbury and Haydock in attritional conditions under big race jockey David Bass.
And recent rain prompted a change of heart on the part of Bailey who initially intended to miss the meeting. “He deserves to have a chance to go there and soft ground will certainly be a huge benefit for him,” he said.
“He’s stepping up into a different league but he’s done nothing wrong so far. I’ve always looked upon him as a horse that wants further. We started him off at two miles because he was always quite free at home.”
Though there’s every likelihood that the race, like so many this week, will be dominated by runners from the powerhouse yards of the aforementioned Mullins, plus Nicky Henderson and Gordon Elliott, many neutrals will be supporting Kalashnikov.
The progressive hurdler has already won at Wetherby and Doncaster this season and, on his last outing, beat a quality field in Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle that was staged on quagmire-like ground.
He’s been prepared by 25-year-old Amy Murphy, Britain’s youngest licensed trainer, and will, once again, be ridden by Jack Quinlan, one of the weighing room’s more under-rated jockeys.
“He was impressive at Newbury. Under 11st 5lb, as a novice, it was an extremely good performance,” said Murphy.
“He was a big baby going into the race. He’d never seen anything like that before but we were delighted with him.
“He seems in great order at home.”