Win­ners make im­pres­sive come­backs at New­bury, while a rookie fires off a win for his young trainer and an im­pres­sive lead lands bumper suc­cess

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - By TOM PEA­COCK


New­bury, Berk­shire

THREE-RUN­NER races on an af­ter­noon of re­lent­lessly foul weather in early Fe­bru­ary tend to make the hearts of only the most ar­dent Na­tional Hunt fans soar. How­ever, af­ter di­gest­ing the per­for­mances of two pop­u­lar chasers in New­bury’s pair of key Chel­tenham tri­als, there was a sense of re­newed op­ti­mism ahead of the Fes­ti­val it­self.

A Bet­way Queen Mother Cham­pion Chase shorn of Al­tior would be un­sat­is­fac­tory in­deed and the 2017 Arkle win­ner left trainer Nicky Hen­der­son run­ning out of su­perla­tives fol­low­ing his in­cred­i­ble ef­fort in the Bet­fair Ex­change Chase.

“I think you’d say that was per­fec­tion,” he beamed.

Al­tior had missed his in­tended come­back in De­cem­ber’s

Tin­gle Creek when re­quir­ing a wind op­er­a­tion. In de­feat­ing Poli­to­logue, the horse who took

that Sandown ti­tle in his ab­sence, by a com­fort­able four lengths in un­favourably soft ground, Pa­tri­cia Pugh’s hand­some eight-year-old is still un­beaten in seven over fences and very much the one to beat in the two-mile cham­pi­onship.

“If any­thing was go­ing to test his wind it was that ground,” Hen­der­son con­tin­ued. “There must be a lot of im­prove­ment left. He had only done three bits of work, and it’s all so easy for him. It’s just pure class.”

Al­tior was given a clean bill of health after­wards and still has more than a lit­tle of his il­lus­tri­ous for­mer sta­ble­mate Sprinter

Sacre about him at this stage of his ca­reer. Min looks his chief Chel­tenham ri­val on the ev­i­dence at Leop­ard­stown the pre­vi­ous week, while there re­mains that glo­ri­ous un­cer­tainty of Dou­van emerg­ing from the wilder­ness in time. Right now, Al­tior is a few steps ahead of him.


THE Tim­ico Chel­tenham

Gold Cup was an­other fea­ture event badly in need of an­other ele­ment, fol­low­ing a num­ber of dis­ap­point­ments and dropouts in re­cent weeks, and one of the most re­li­able of cam­paign­ers came to its res­cue.

Na­tive River had taken the Hen­nessy and Welsh Na­tional prior to a de­feat of Le Mer­curey in last year’s Den­man Chase, set­ting him up for a good third be­hind Siz­ing John at the Fes­ti­val. A liga­ment prob­lem had kept him off the race­course since then and a 12-length mar­gin over the high­class Cloudy Dream in Satur­day’s Den­man counts as an im­proved dis­play again.

De­spite be­ing chest­nut, white-

faced and a front-run­ner,

Na­tive River does not re­ally fit into the flashy bracket. In­stead, he grinds his ri­vals into sub­mis­sion and a cou­ple of fine late leaps took him well away from the pa­tient­lyrid­den Cloudy Dream, who is likely to head for the Ryanair Chase now.

“It was ab­so­lutely what we wanted,” said trainer Colin Tiz­zard. “You’re des­per­ate to run them, es­pe­cially when all those big races are on, but if we’d run him be­fore Christ­mas we might not have got him to Chel­tenham.”

No dis­re­spect is in­tended to­wards Definitly Red, who was a con­vinc­ing win­ner of the Cotswold Chase, or Ed­wulf af­ter his near-Lazarus come­back in the Ir­ish Gold Cup, but it still ap­pears a shade fan­ci­ful to imag­ine ei­ther be­ing quite at the level for Chel­tenham’s cham­pi­onship. Na­tive River has been there be­fore and now dis­putes 6/1 se­cond favouritism with Siz­ing John, only be­hind Might Bite in the ante-post bet­ting.

“Go­ing into the last Chel­tenham we had a run of 52 run­ners with­out a win­ner, so we weren’t in the best of form,” Tiz­zard added. “Two very good horses went by him that day, but he’d had three or four hard races. He’ll go there a much fresher horse any­way.”


AMY MUR­PHY be­came Bri­tain’s youngest trainer at only 24 when tak­ing out her li­cence 18 months ago. A for­mer as­sis­tant to Luca Cu­mani and based in the Flat strong­hold of New­mar­ket, she has bravely opted to take the dual-pur­pose route and half of her 30 or so horses are jumpers.

She has made a bright im­pres­sion with about a dozen win­ners un­der each code, but land­ing the £150,000 Bet­fair Hur­dle — the sea­son’s most valu­able of its kind — was an­other level al­to­gether.

Mur­phy was most taken aback when Wil­lie Mullins — a trainer she re­vealed is her idol — in­tro­duced him­self when con­grat­u­lat­ing her af­ter Kalash­nikov had beaten his run­ner Bleu Et Rouge by fourand-a-half lengths. The next duty was to call her fa­ther Paul, Kalash­nikov’s owner, who had just touched down on hol­i­day in South Africa.

“I’m not very good at watch­ing my horses, but I man­aged to see the last hur­dle,” she said.

Kalash­nikov is still a rookie who had only lost his un­beaten streak when se­cond in the Tol­worth Hur­dle. Mur­phy ad­mit­ted she had been “check­ing the weather ev­ery hour” as she wor­ried about the rain and ex­pects the horse to pre­fer the bet­ter ground in the Supreme Novices’ Hur­dle at Chel­tenham.

It was also a ma­jor mo­ment in the ca­reer of the hard-work­ing but largely un­recog­nised New­mar­ket­based jockey Jack Quin­lan.

“He’s re­lated to Kick­ing King so hope­fully he’s go­ing to be a top jumper in years to come,” said the rider.

‘If any­thing was go­ing to test his wind it was

that ground’


Na­tive River makes a suc­cess­ful re­turn to the race­course to land the Den­man by 12-lengths

’I think you’d say he was per­fec­tion’: Nicky Hen­der­son praises the Bet­fair Ex­change Chase

win­ner Al­tior (left)

Jack Quin­lan and Kalash­nikov land the £150,000 Bet­fair Hur­dle

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