Finding a Cheltenham Festival winner in an area known for its rich Flat heritage is something of a rarity – but is a challenge Amy Murphy hopes to fulfil this season.
Having watched Kalashnikov come within a neck of landing last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the up-and-coming Newmarket-based handler is keeping her fingers crossed that, granted a smooth campaign, her stable star can go one one better on his Festival return in the Arkle Trophy.
Although coming so close at Prestbury Park in March, victory in the previous month’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury ensured that near-miss was not the abiding memory of the season.
“Last year we only had eight jump horses, so to have found a gem in Kalashnikov is unbelievable,” said the trainer.
“The Betfair was very surreal for me as the likes of Willie Mullins and JP McManus have been idols to me and for them to turn around and be congratulating us made it a special day.
“Jack (Quinlan) rode to an absolute tee at Cheltenham. He couldn’t have done any more to help the horse. It was a big day for a team of our size to be competing at Cheltenham with a live contender, and to run like one – it was a phenomenal day.
“He was always going to be turned away after Cheltenham as he was a big, raw horse. He needed a good summer holiday as he had some tough races.
“He is fresh and well and has done well over the summer. Touch wood he stays sound, but we are pleased with him at the moment.”
Watch what Murphy told Lydia Hislop straight after the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
While plans for Kalashnikov are fluid at this stage, Murphy does have one eye on a possible outing at Plumpton.
She added: “Fences are what he is bred for. When you have a live contender for Cheltenham I think you would be mad not to look at a race at Plumpton with the bonus they have (for going on to win at Cheltenham).
“He will start off low key and if Plumpton fits, then great. Everybody wants to be at Cheltenham and that will be our target again.”
With Kalashnikov taking much of the limelight last season, the achievements of his stablemate Mercian Prince were left slightly in the shade.
However, with the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November identified as a possible early-season target, he could soon enjoy his moment on centre stage.
Murphy said: “I feel a bit sorry for Mercian Prince, as if it wasn’t for Kalashnikov, he would be our stable star as he won a Class Two and a Class Three handicap last season.
“He has been an absolute star for us, I owe him an awful lot and if there is a horse in the yard that deserves to win a big one, it’s him.
“He ran well over the National fences at Aintree last season, he just got tired in the heavy ground. He could aim for the Grand Sefton again, but I do think he has a black-type race in him.
“He could be one to get into the BetVictor Gold Cup. He was cantering at Cheltenham on Trials Day coming down the hill and then came down at three out.
“At the Festival he got struck into, so you can write that run off.”
Murphy did visit the hallowed Cheltenham winner’s enclosure last season after Hawthorn Cottage claimed a surprise victory in a mares’ bumper at the Gloucestershire track in April.
She said: “She had been very consistent in her bumpers and had not been out of the first three, but it was a Class Two bumper at Cheltenham and we were hoping we might run well and finish fourth or fifth and be delighted.
“It was great for the Melbourne 10 Racing boys, who are supporters of mine, so hopefully she can contest those mares’ novice hurdles this year and get to the mares’ novice hurdle at the Festival next year and give them a good day out.”
With several new faces arriving at Southgate Stables in recent months, both from the sales and other yards, Murphy has a few more that could help eclipse her 2017-18 tally of eight winners and see her stock rise again.
She said: “I’ve got a nice bumper horse called Disciple who is by Fastnet Rock. He has got a bit of speed, as well as stamina.
“Well Smitten joined us from Warren Greatrex in May and came back in August. His form has been in-and-out and he is one likely to go chasing sooner rather than later.
“Potters Sapphire and Potters Angelique have kindly been sent to me as well. Potters Sapphire is a lovely, big mare with plenty of scope, so hopefully we will pick up a couple of races along the way.
“Jamessaintpatrick was purchased after Hawthorn Cottage won, but luckily he has turned into a nice horse and has done really well over the summer.
“He is an Irish point-to-point winner, so he has plenty of ability. He will probably start off in a bumper. It is very early days with him, but he is a nice, athletic horse.”