Ante-post Arkle Trophy favourite Kalashnikov puts his reputation on the line in a cracking renewal of the 32Red.com Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Thursday.
Having barely put a foot wrong in two starts over fences to date, last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up finds himself as low as 11-4 in a place for Cheltenham at the halfway stage of the season.
His championship prospects will be a lot clearer after this, as he clashes with Dynamite Dollars, who is already a Grade One winner, and Maria’s Benefit, a bold-jumping front-runner.
“The nerves are OK – I’m excited, really looking forward to it and hoping for a good run,” said trainer Amy Murphy.
“The ground looks perfect, he’s got form right-handed having been second in a Tolworth Hurdle, so all is in place.
“He’s at a point now where he needs to take his chance in a better race and take the next step up.
“We always felt that if the first half of the season went well this was where we’d like to be and here we are – he’s got to go and do it now.”
Classy hurdler Maria’s Benefit is taking on the boys after winning her first two races over fences in good style.
She was one of the best in her division last season, and trainer Stuart Edmunds admits it is a nervous time sending his stable star into such a deep contest.
“It’s quite nerve-racking, I won’t lie, you’d like to protect her, but one day she’s got to take the boys on,” said Edmunds.
“The ground and the track will suit her – a dead-on flat two miles – and she’s in good order, so we’ll see how she gets on.
“I think the consensus is that Jester Jet wasn’t at her best when she ran the other day because I had been a bit worried that her form hadn’t been working out.
“By the time they’ve given her a few pounds, she’s not that far wrong at the weights.”
Dynamite Dollars won the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase for Paul Nicholls, beating previous Arkle favourite Lalor, a race in which Highway One O One finished fourth and the two meet again.
Hope’s Wishes completes the field.