Kalashnikov wins the Betfair Hurdle on Betfair Super Saturday at Newbury Racecourse - and Barbury Castle's Valdez is back
They saw a great performance from the novice Kalashnikov to land the £155,000 Betfair Hurdle, Britain's richest handicap hurdle - they saw Altior cruise to victory - and they saw return of locally trained veteran Valdez.Despite some atrocious weather, there was a large crowd at Newbury Racecourse for Betfair Super Saturday (February 10).
After the morning's rain, the going for the seven race card was Soft. And there were a lot of very muddied horses and jockeys coming in after each race.
Ridden by Jack Quinlan, Kalashnikov was an impressive winner - settling in mid-division, he made significant progress three flights from home and took up the running approaching two out, staying on strongly after the last to win by four and a half length. Second was Irish challenger Bleu Et Rouge (Willie Mullins/Barry Geraghty), with another eight lengths back to third placed Spiritofthegames (Dan Skelton/Bridget Andrew).
It was a good race for women: Kalashnikov is trained at Newmarket by Amy Murphy, who only began training in 2016 and became the third female trainer to land the prestigious two-mile contest. Bridget Andrew came in third and Lucy Gardner brought Coeur Blimey home in fourth place.
The first home of Nicky Henderson's five entries was Lough Derg Spirit who came in sixth. The much favoured Jenkins with James Bowen up, was distracted by a loose horse and came home last of the Seven barrows five.
Elsewhere on the card, the mighty Altior made a hugely-impressive seasonal reappearance in the G2 Betfair Exchange Chase and now heads to the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham next month.
Altior was back after a 287 day lay-off after a noise in his breathing was detected and he had a wind operation. A delighted Nicky Henderson said: "If I had dreamt what was going to happen, that would've been just about it. He took a blow between the last two but it was exactly what we wanted and he didn't make a noise.
"He is in brilliant form. He has had three bits of work since Sandown in April. He had a good blow and that is not his ground, but he's jumped well out of it."
Paul Nicholls trained Politologue was second home in the three horse race. But who was that jumping alongside Altior?
It was the unmistakable white face of the eleven year-old gelding Valdez who was back racing after a 1,204 day layoff. Trained by Alan King at Barbury Castle, Valdez won three novice chases on the trot in the 2013-2014 season - one of them, at Newbury, by a satisfying 24 lengths.
Then, after a break in racing of 196 days, he ran in a two mile handicap chase on soft ground at Chepstow on 25 October 2014. As he was travelling strongly and mounting a challenge, he fell two out.
Before his come-back race at Newbury, Alan King told the Racing Post: "Taking on Altior wouldn't be ideal after such a long layoff, but I need to get a run into him somewhere to see what he can do, and he's still rated 151, which doesn't make it easy for him in handicaps."
Ridden by Wayne Hutchinson and starting beside Altior and Politologue, Valdez was judged to have run 'a stormer'. But after 'an unlucky loss of footing four out' and a stumble, he hit the penultimate fence and then weakened to come home thirteen lengths behind Politologue.
Valdez has an entry for the two mile Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival - March 14. We shall be watching closely.
The next action at Newbury Racecourse is Mencap Charity Raceday on Friday, March 2 and Greatwood Charity Raceday on Saturday, March 3.