Kalashnikov is gunning for his Cheltenham Festival rivals

AS BRITAIN'S youngster trainer, Amy Murphy says it is 'surreal' that Kalashnikov is one of the leading fancies for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle '“ the Cheltenham Festival's traditional curtain-raiser.

Kalashnikov and Jack Quinlan in winning action at Wetherby.
Kalashnikov and Jack Quinlan in winning action at Wetherby.

Owned by her father Paul, the rapidly improving five-year-old has been a revelation since making a winning racecourse debut at Wetherby 12 months ago under regular rider Jack Quinlan.

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A wide-margin win at the West Yorkshire track on Charlie Hall Chase day last November, and a further success at Doncaster, preceded Kalashnikov’s brave defeat in Sandown’s Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at the turn of the year.

Waiting Patiently and Brian Hughes (right) lead Cue Card and Paddy Brennan away from the last fence before going on to win the Ascot Chase.

However the five-year-old booked his place in the two-mile Grade One as he defied his novice status to run out a four-and-a-half-length winner of the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month on rain-sodden ground.

And, with the ground likely to be more testing than usual at Cheltenham next Tuesday, Murphy, 25, couldn’t be happier with her charge following a successful spin over hurdles on Thursday morning.

She said: “It all went very well. He’s in good order so fingers crossed we can keep him that way until Tuesday.

Amy Murphy and Jack Quinlan

“We’re not too worried about the ground. It was soft at Newbury last time and he went through it and it was heavy at Sandown the time before, so he is pretty versatile.

“He’s such a good-actioned horse that I’m sure better ground will suit him and he’s also by Kalanisi, whose progeny tend to go well on quicker ground.

“I think we’re all guessing a bit at the Cheltenham going. It’s a quick-draining track so we will see what happens.”

Kalashnikov is also entered in Wednesday’s two-mile-five-furlong Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, but Murphy said: “If he doesn’t go there on Tuesday for any reason, he won’t be running.”

Waiting Patiently and Brian Hughes (right) lead Cue Card and Paddy Brennan away from the last fence before going on to win the Ascot Chase.

Murphy only took out her licence in September 2016, and with Mercian Prince also due to travel to Cheltenham for next Thursday’s Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate, the Newmarket handler can hardly believe her good fortune.

She added: “It’s unbelievable and very exciting. It’s very surreal to be going to the Festival with two live hopes and for a yard of our size, it’s just fantastic.”

That sentiment is shared by the aforementioned Quinlan who is an integral member of Murphy’s stable and Kalashnikov’s rise to prominence.

“If this horse was trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh he would be favourite for the Supreme, no doubt about it,” said the 25-year-old.

Amy Murphy and Jack Quinlan

“Cheltenham is like the Olympics of our sport. It is about the best of the best: The best horses, the best trainers and the best jockeys. It is tough, but he deserves to be there. He won the Betfair Hurdle and that is no mean feat. He is a real horse on the up and he goes down there as a real live contender to win.”

Meanwhile Ruth Jefferson has set out her future plans for Waiting Patiently after withdrawing the Grade One Ascot Chase winner from next week’s Ryanair Chase.

Though the decision was expected because of the horse’s relative inexperience, the unbeaten chaser was still second favourite behind the Mullins-trained and Walsh-ridden defending champion Un De Sceaux after a stirring win at Ascot over Colin Tizzard’s evergreen veteran Cue Card.

“He came back from Ascot fine, but then when we started riding him again the weight dropped off,” explained Jefferson who will be represented by the Trevor Hemmings-owned serial runner-up Cloudy Dream.

“We’d love to have a Cheltenham Festival winner, obviously, so it is disappointing in some ways, but we can’t take the horse if he’s not 100 per cent. If I took him to Cheltenham looking light and he ran badly, I’d look pretty stupid. He’ll have another easy week next week and we’ve still got a few weeks to get him ready for Aintree.”

Waiting Patiently is likely to be given entries in the three-mile Betway Bowl and the two-and-a-half mile JLT Melling Chase at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, and Jefferson is currently favouring the former. “If the ground comes up good to soft or soft, we might run him in the Bowl. We’re probably favouring him trying him over three miles as it will help us plan for next season,” added the Malton trainer.