Glen Forsa inflicted a shock defeat on leading Arkle Trophy contender Kalashnikov in the Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Sandown.
Rescheduled following the abandonment of racing at Warwick last week due to the outbreak of equine influenza, the Grade Two contest attracted just four runners – and that number was reduced by one after Dalila Du Seuil was withdrawn at the start.
Kalashnikov – runner-up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last March – made a fine start to his career over fences with successive victories at Warwick and Plumpton.
Amy Murphy’s stable star was beaten by the now-sidelined Dynamite Dollars in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton on his most recent outing, but was nevertheless the 1-4 favourite to bounce back to winning ways under Jack Quinlan.
The Mick Channon-trained Glen Forsa was stepping up in grade following handicap triumphs at Chepstow and Kempton and was immediately sent to the front by Jonathan Burke, with Kalashnikov on his tail for much of the two-mile journey.
The pair went at it racing down the back straight and it was Glen Forsa who was much the slicker in the jumping department, propelling him into a clear lead rounding the home turn.
It was soon clear Channon’s 7-2 chance had the odds-on favourite’s measure and he safely negotiated the remaining two obstacles to seal a most impressive 19-length victory, which saw Paddy Power cut him to 8-1 for the Arkle and 6-1 for the longer JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham next month.
Jack Channon, assistant to his father, said: “That was very impressive.
“We’ve always thought he was very decent. I thought two and half miles was probably his trip, but I’ve been proved wrong today as he has got enough pace for the two miles.
“He put a very good horse in Kalashnikov under pressure from a long way out and he jumped and stayed, and that won the day in the end.
“I think you would struggle not to look at the Arkle, but he is in that and the JLT and we will look at both and see how he comes out of this race and train him for Cheltenham. Either way we know we’ve got a nice horse to take to the Festival.
“He was still a baby at Kempton and has put on weight since then. He had a little setback which has tested us and the lass who rides him out every day has done a fantastic job.
“It is quite an emotional performance really, as we’ve worked very hard for that.”
The stewards inquired into the performance of Kalashnikov, but a post-race examination failed to reveal any abnormalities.
Murphy said: “I think either way that was very disappointing. Jack said he didn’t feel his usual self so we will go back and check him over and check we are not missing something.
“Take nothing away from the winner, he is a very nice horse and when I saw him canter down to post I thought ‘what a lovely horse’. I’m delighted for them, but we will regroup with him.
“He will definitely go to Cheltenham, but which race we go for we might have to think about. We might have to step him up in trip.”
Queenohearts continued her rise through the ranks with a tenacious triumph in the Weatherbys TBA Jane Seymour Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
The daughter of Flemensfirth landed a Listed bumper at this venue last season and although she was beaten on her hurdling debut at Chepstow, she bounced back to claim another Listed prize at Haydock in December.
She had to concede weight to each of her five rivals in this Grade Two contest – including the Haydock runner-up Danse Idol and the fourth home Papagana – but confirmed her superiority in the hands of Ciaran Gethings.
The Stuart Edmunds-trained six-year-old was the 13-8 favourite and while Danse Idol looked to be travelling better on the run to the final flight, Queenohearts dug deep to win the argument by two and a quarter lengths.
Edmunds said: “This has been the plan all season and so far it has all gone to plan.
“She met a fair bit of trouble in running, but she overcame it. She just stays very well and is tough.
“She hit the front a bit soon and then Danse Idol came alongside her and she went again. It took a bit of doing to give the 5lb away, so good on her.
“She is entered in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham over two and a half (miles), but whether her jumping would be sharp enough against the older mares, I’m not sure.
“She will have an entry in the mares’ novice over two miles, but the ground would probably have to be very soft to run there.
“She could go to Ireland for the race at Grade One at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday. There are nice options for her.”