Jack Quinlan, the jockey based in Newmarket. The hub of racing. To the untrained brain it would be fair to assume it was just another 8st, 5ft flat rider. However, Quinlan is in the privileged position of having first pick on the towns select squadron of jumpers and in particular, the man in the saddle aboard Amy Murphy’s growing battalion of jumps talent.
His association with Murphy has seen him land a Listed prize aboard Kalane, and this season the duo has gone from strength to strength as Mercian Prince and in particular, the exciting Kalashnikov have taken the Newmarket pair to the front pages.
Now Quinlan gets his biggest day in the saddle as he prepares to steer Kalashnikov to Supreme Novice’s Hurdle glory in the first race on the first day of the four biggest days in the sport’s calendar.
Kalshnikov shot to second favourite in the market for the opening day contest following his Betfair Hurdle triumph and is just one Willie Mullins u-turn from going from a horse that opened up at 8/1 on his hurdles debut at Wetherby to favourite for a Festival Grade One.
The man in the saddle is counting down the days until he can reacquaint himself with the young hurdler;
“It’s the longest wait of my life, waiting for the first day of the festival.”
“My god it’s like being 10-years-old again waiting for Christmas. It’s lovely to have a horse like Kalashnikov to ride and put myself on the map. Everyone wants to know about and how he’s doing, and I’ll never get bored or tire of talking about the horse as I love him.”
Kalashnikov appears capable of taking Quinlan to the highest level, and he reels out a familiar line when looking ahead to the future;
“It sounds a cliché but whatever he does this year in the Supreme is a bonus and you’ll see a much better horse next year when we get to put him over a fence and he strengthens up.”
“He has already given me the biggest day of my career at Newbury, and he is a horse I wholeheartedly believe has many more big days in him.”
However, he exudes confidence that the five-year-old can handle the task in hand at Prestbury Park next week;
“He seems to be improving race to race and we couldn’t be happier with him. He’s proven now in the hurly burly of a big handicap hurdle which will stand him in good stead for Cheltenham.”
“Although he was under pressure a long way out in both the Tolworth and the Betfair, it was purely down to the heavy ground. And he’ll be much better on a quicker surface”
“He possesses an awful lot of ability and has shown a willing attitude to go with it. He’s just the full package.”
The young jockey then went onto explain just what made Kalashnikov so good;
“He’s a horse with a really high cruise gear on better ground, which touch wood we will get in the middle of march and I think you’re going to see him travel a lot more powerfully, which is why we are confident about going for the Supreme over the Ballymore because we know he’s got the gears.”
“Kalashnikov is a horse everyone at Amy’s fell in love with from day one before we even ran him and that fondness of him as only strengthened from run to run.”
As a young rider set to come up against a few experienced campaigners and non-so more than Ruby Walsh, the leading most Festival rider, who is set to ride Kalashnikov’s main market rival Getabird, how does Quinlan see the race panning out tactically and who does he see as the main dangers;
“Getabird is the obvious danger and I imagine will be a short price on the day. Summerville Boy is in there too who beat us at Sandown in the Tolworth. But Kalashnikov showed much more improvement in the Betfair and has gone on from that Sandown run.”
Quinlan and his willing partner have proved a revelation this season. Flying the flag for the small guy, in a division often dominated by the big names, they have gone from strength to strength landing three out of four, culminating in that Betfair Hurdle triumph on a damp dreary Newbury afternoon in ground which would have been far from ideal.
Many have questioned how much those exertions will have taken out of the five-year-old, although Quinlan has little doubt that the effects of a long season are about to catch up with the son of Kalinisi;
“Kalashnikov has come out of the Betfair Hurdle extremely well. We said if he had a hard race and needed a bit of time we would have looked after him. But my god he doesn’t seem to need to and he’s as fresh as paint.”
In his formative years, whilst a key member of John Ferguson’s Bloomfields operation, Quinlan was famously jocked off the highly talented Cotton Mill ahead of his Festival challenge. However there seems little chance of this happening now, with Murphy 100% behind her man in the saddle;
“All credit has to go to Amy and her father Paul who have put massive faith and loyalty in me not just with this horse but with the others in the yard as well.”
“It gives you an awful lot of confidence as a jockey going out there knowing that the connections are right behind you and I’m in an incredibly fortunate position.”
Another of the Murphy’s winning machines Quinlan has earned plaudits aboard this season is Mercian Prince. Having joined the Hamilton Road set-up from France the Midnight Legend gelding looked set to break the young rider’s Cheltenham duck when cruising through the field in a novice handicap on Trials Day in 2017. Disaster was then to strike as the seven-year-old was brought down three-out to leave Quinlan and Murphy still searching for that fabled first Prestbury Park winner.
This term Mercian Prince looks set to take his chance in the Brown Advisory Festival Plate on Thursday and will head there in search of a hat-trick having excelled at Kempton and battled bravely in the mud, under a masterclass in ‘good ground hunting’ from Quinlan who is optimistic about his chances once again;
“Mercian Prince is on an upward curve, and he would be very competitive if taking his chance.”
The biggest week in the career of the rider is now just a few days away as Quinlan looks set to continue his quest towards breaking his seasonal best winners total. Time will tell if he is able to pass the 27 winners he recorded as a fledgling Bloomfields conditional, but one thing that is guaranteed; Kalashnikov will be lock, loaded and ready to fire as they shoot to hit the Supreme Novices’ target.