Kalashnikov warms up for his date at the Cheltenham Festival on Saturday when he heads an entry of eight for Warwick’s feature Agetur UK Kingmaker Chase, writes David Hucker.
The Kingmaker has been won by some high-class horses, including Flagship Uberalles in 1999, Long Run, who took the 2010 contest before going on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup a year later and another champion chaser in Finian’s Rainbow in 2011.
Runner-up over hurdles at last year’s Festival, Kalashnikov, who is very much the star of Amy Murphy’s Newmarket stable, overcame a mistake at the first open ditch to make a winning start to his chasing career over the course in November. He learnt from the experience, jumping flawlessly when following up at Plumpton, a victory that set him up to earn connections a £60,000 bonus if he goes on to land his Festival target.
Kalashnikov met defeat in his next race when, as odds-on favourite, he was beaten one-and-a-quarter lengths by another Arkle contender Dynamite Dollars at Kempton Park, a disappointing run given that was receiving 5lb in weight.
However, the winner scored again at Doncaster two weeks ago to underline his credentials and Kalashnikov should bounce back to form on Saturday with Dan Skelton’s Destrier looking the main danger.
The most valuable race of the afternoon is the £50,000 McCoy Contractors Warwick Castle Handicap Chase over two-and-a-half miles. With 33 entries, it is very much a guessing game as to which horses will line up on the day but a couple to note are Scorpion Sid, a wide-margin winner of an eventful beginners’ chase at Haydock Park for trainer Jamie Snowdon and Rather Be, who takes a drop in class after finishing behind Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup hopeful Frodon on his most recent run.
Also on the card is the £25,000 OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle (Listed Race) (Registered As The Warwick Mares’ Hurdle) over two miles and five furlongs and last year’s runner-up Jester Jet could go one better this time.
Odds-on favourite when runner-up in a novices’ chase here in December, Jester Jet reverted to hurdles at Ascot last month but could not peg back Magic Of Light on the run-in. Back in third place was If You Say Run, who holds an entry in the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but needs to step up if she is to be a contender there.
There should be another good turnout on Saturday as Warwick continues to buck the trend in racecourse attendances.
While the Racecourse Association reported attendances dipping for the third year running, Warwick set a modern-day record of 45,000 last year, continuing to go from strength to strength since focusing on Jumps racing.
Racing gets under way at 12.55pm with the David “Digger” Aldred Memorial Novices’ Hurdle and gates open two hours before.