It’s that time of year, when National Hunt racing has begun in earnest. The weather has turned, the ground has softened and names like Tingle Creek, King George and Fighting Fifth have returned as headliners.
Of course, all roads lead to Cheltenham in March, perhaps too many roads, but these are important races on their own. Far from match practice, far from dress rehearsals (as I just read somewhere), each day brings theatre, whether it’s Kalashnikov’s second lesson in chasing at Plumpton Monday or Altior’s return in the Tingle Creek at Sandown Saturday or simply a novice hurdler learning his trade at Bangor.
Racing Gods willing, we’ll be at Cheltenham in March (I’ve missed one year since 2002) watching the culmination of a winter’s journey. The first year I went, I didn’t know the Champion Hurdle from the Triumph Hurdle, thought there was a jockey named Barry Geraghty, who sometimes was called Ross and believed Guinness Village was a little town outside Dublin.
My how things have changed.
With the advancement of technology, the road to Cheltenham has become easier to navigate, now we can read The Racing Post each day, watch races each morning on our computer or TV and come to Cheltenham with a vague sense of what is in store. I remember bringing home copies of The Racing Post and handing them out to friends, they would hand them to other friends and in a month’s time, about April, they would come back to me. I still have them, tattered and tethering.
In, hopefully, a consistent feature, I’ll bring you a horse to watch. Today’s horse is the aforementioned Kalashnikov. When he won his bumper back in March, 2017, I texted Matt Coleman, who has mined the likes of Global Citizen, Lil Rockerfeller, Dawalan and Valdez for the jump game, and asked about the bumper winner at Wetherby. Matt texted a picture of a jet plane. Yes, he’s a jet plane.
Owned by Paul Murphy and trained by his daughter, Amy, the Irish-bred 5-year-old won three of five over hurdles, finishing second in the other two, including a tough loss to Summerville Boy in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
A proper chasing type, the son of Kalanisi switched to chasing with aplomb this season, routing three rivals at Warwick in November and five rivals at Plumpton. His next step will be in the Wayward Lad at Kempton. Kalshnikov is co-favorite with Lalor for the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
As for Murphy, she began training in 2016 and has quickly shown she learned plenty from her former bosses, Tom Dascombe, Luca Cumani and Gai Waterhouse.
The future is bright – for Murphy and Kalashnikov. Jet planes.