Cheltenham Festival 2012 

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Alan King Looks Ahead to The Festival

Trainer Alan King talked about his potential runners for The Festival at his Barbury Castle Stables during a foggy morning on the Marlborough Downs.

Alan King
© Racehorse Photos

Alan King

Ardlui was smart on the Flat for trainer Henry Candy, achieving a rating of before joining Alan King for a juvenile hurdling campaign. He was a promising third to Nick Williams' Urbain De Sivola at Newbury on November 25, before gaining a narrow success back at the Berkshire course on December 14. He returned from a short break at Doncaster on February 22, finishing third behind the progressive Eagle Rock, to whom he was conceding 7lb. Entered in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (10st 2lb) and the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Balder Succes is one of the few juvenile hurdlers not to have run on the Flat, but he did win his sole start in France over hurdles at Auteuil in October, 2011. He was subsequently moved to Alan King's yard and made a winning British hurdling debut at Plumpton on January 2, before being an even more impressive winner at Ascot 19 days later. However, he pleasantly surprised his trainer on his latest start when beating some classy older rivals at Ascot on February 18 by seven lengths, putting himself firmly in line for one of the novices' hurdles at The Festival. Entered in the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Alan King said: “He is a different type to Grumeti as he has never run on the Flat. He won narrowly on his debut at Auteuil and we bought him then. We loved him from day one. We took it quietly and went to Plumpton where he trotted up. We stepped up to Ascot but it cut up to three runners. He won well and went back to Ascot a fortnight ago where I hoped he would win and he didn’t just win - he completely routed them. How good a race it was, I don’t know. He is extremely straightforward to train. He has done all his winning on soft ground but again he is good-actioned horse and I see no reason why he won’t go on better ground. We are extremely lucky to have two very good four-year-olds for the Triumph Hurdle. They would be right up with the best four-year-olds I have had - nothing fazes them.”

Batonnier began his career with a very impressive bumper success at Fontwell in May, 2010. He failed to win in three subsequent bumper starts before a making a promising hurdle debut at Market Rasen in March, 2011, finishing second. He continued to progress over hurdles when stepped up to around two and a half miles, finishing second at Southwell in April, third at Ascot in a novices' handicap and second at Cheltenham on New Year's Day again in novice company. Evidently the form of that Cheltenham run suggested Batonnier was improving rapidly and he built on that effort when a ready winner of the Grade Two Neptune Investments Management Novices' Hurdle on Festival Trials Day, January 28, at Cheltenham. Entered in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle and the Coral Cup (10st 7lb).

Alan King said: “A couple of years ago we though he was our best bumper horse. He won well on his debut at Fontwell. He did not follow up and it has taken a long time to get him back. He ran well at Cheltenham on January 1 and we took him back there for a Grade Two race at the end of the month. His home work on the run-up to that race was very good and he settled well and came through to win from a horse Nicky Henderson thinks a lot of. He has got an entry in the Coral Cup but is 99 per cent to run in the Neptune. He is very much a good-ground horse and is an interesting runner. He has got to improve again on what he has done but he is giving every indication at home that he has certainly not gone backwards. He has gained confidence.”

Bless The Wings was purchased at the Doncaster sales in May, 2008, for £42,000 and made his debut for Alan King in a bumper at Huntingdon in December 2009, when he finished sixth of 17. He continued his progression in bumpers at Market Rasen and Newbury, finishing fourth on both occasions, but improved for the switch to hurdles when flashing home to finish second at Wetherby over two and a half miles in November, 2010. He returned from a short absence in February, 2011 at Leicester, but didn't appear to enjoy soft ground there or next time out at Newbury over three miles. He made a successful start to his chase career in a novices' handicap chase at Exeter on November 20, before finishing second at Kempton over Christmas. He won on his latest start at Cheltenham in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase on Festival Trials Day (January 28) by two and a half lengths. Entered in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase (11st 10lb) and the Byrne Group Plate (10st 4lb).

Alan King said: “He is a course and distance winner and an improving young horse. He has won two of his three races over fences and will probably go for the novices’ handicap chase (Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase) on the Tuesday but has the option of the Byrne Group Plate. We will leave him in both and have a word with the owners. He jumped very well at Cheltenham at the end of January. He was probably in front a little bit soon - three out which is plenty soon enough for him - but there was carnage around and behind him. He stayed on powerfully up the hill and seems in real good order. I don’t think he minds what the ground is like.”

Fire Fighter, a 90-rated performer on the Flat for trainer Sir Mark Prescott, was purchased at Tattersalls for 75,000 guineas in October last year and sent to Alan King. He made his debut at Sandown on January 7 and ran an encouraging race to only get beaten half a length into third. He turned out again three weeks later and won comfortably at Warwick before returning to Sandown to go down by a neck to Kapga De Cerisy on February 17. Entered in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (10st 3lb)

Alan King said: “He is a bit of a lad and we decided not to bring him over to show you this morning because he would cause havoc. He won at Warwick before just being beaten at Sandown the other day. He is a second string to our bow in the Fred Winter. He will probably be fitted with blinkers in the Fred Winter. He is thoroughly genuine but they will just make him focus.”

Grumeti won twice on the Flat for trainer Michael Bell prior to being sold for £100,000 at Tattersalls in October, 2011. He made his debut for Alan King in a novices' hurdle at Taunton on December 30, when he won impressively by 14 lengths from subsequent winner Ted Spread. After an unlucky fall at Newbury on January 18, he lined up 10 days later in the Grade Two JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham and despite finishing runner-up by a short-head to Pearl Swan was awarded the race by the stewards as he was suffered interference during their struggle to the line. The son of Sakhee achieved a third success when a ready winner of the Grade Two Dovecote Novices's Hurdle at Kempton on February 25. Entered in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Alan King said: “He won well at Kempton on Saturday - I was not sure whether to give him another run or not but he seemed to be in such good form at home that I just thought it would be good for Choc (Thornton) to have a feel of him. We decided to take on the older horses rather than run in the Adonis as on paper it looked the easier race. He jumped extremely fluently and accurately and quickened up. He has come out of the race in grand form. He will go on any going but I think good ground does suit him as he has plenty of toe. At the Cheltenham in January the dead ground blunted him a bit. He has done very little wrong and it is unfortunate that he slipped up on his second start after jumping the hurdle pretty well. He is extremely straightforward and a pleasure to train.”

Hold On Julio started his career in novices' hurdles at Kelso and Ayr in 2008 for trainer Vicky Simpson, but was pulled up on both occasions. He returned to Kelso in a hunter chase in April, 2011, winning by 28 lengths prior to being purchased by Alan King for £28,000 at Doncaster sales in May. He made his debut for yard in a three-mile handicap chase at Sandown on November 5, when he trounced the opposition, but unfortunately a bout of ringworm prevented him from running for two months. He returned to Sandown in even better form on January 7, taking apart a good quality field to score by nine lengths. He is entered in the JLT Specialty Chase (10st 11lb).

Alan King said: “Hold On Julio will run in the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase. He was bought last season at Doncaster Sales when he was a Northern point-to-pointer and hunter chaser. We didn’t realise what we had until we started working him in the autumn - everybody who sat on him in September and October thought he was a very nice horse. He duly trotted up on his debut for us at Sandown and followed up again at the same course despite making one or two fairly serious errors. He did not meet the railway fences in a good stride and gave one or two of them a nudge. We did have a hold-up at the end of January. He should have gone to Doncaster (Sky Bet Chase) but he had a discharge two days before and a cough for a fortnight. We are just getting him back. He worked very well yesterday but there wasn’t time to send him to Kempton (Racing Plus Chase) last weekend so the logical plan was to wait and go straight to Cheltenham. In the past, this race has been a fairly lucky race for us (2004 Fork Lightning and 2011 Bensalem).”

Winning Irish point-to-pointer Invictus joined Alan King after being purchased for £162,000 at Brightwells sale at Cheltenham in April, 2010. In five hurdles starts from January, 2011, to April, 2011, his best performance was at Ascot on April 10, when he won narrowly by a short-head. His chasing career, however, got off to a much better start with an easy victory at Hereford on November 17, before an impressive display at Plumpton which saw him readily dispatch of Irish raider Gift Of Dgab, who was subsequently placed in a Grade One in Ireland. He disappointed at Cheltenham on New Year's Day when third, but continued on his upward curve with an authoritative success in the Grade Two Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot on February 18, which was his first attempt at three miles. He is entered in the RSA Chase and the Jewson Novices’ Chase.

Alan King said: “It looks as though he will head to the RSA. He was a reasonably good novice hurdler last season but he has made rapid progress since he saw a fence. He did win an Irish point-to-point before we bought him and we started him off in a novice handicap chase at Hereford in which he was very impressive. He really stepped up on that again when winning at Plumpton. There was a horse of Gigginstown’s that came over for that and we gave him a pretty good thrashing. He had a hiccup when beaten at Cheltenham in January - he lost his near-fore shoe pretty early according to Wayne and was quite sore on that foot afterwards. I though he was probably minding himself a little bit. We gave him a bit if time to get over that and he reappeared at Ascot the other weekend when he was the very impressive winner of the Reynoldstown - always jumping and travelling well. One or two people think Bobs Worth will turn the tables but I would be surprised if he does. Invictus is a real exciting horse. He will go an any ground but for a big horse he acts well on good ground.”

Of Iron Chancellor Alan King said: “He is heading to the four-miler (the Diamond Jubilee National Hunt Chase) on the Wednesday. He has been placed in all his starts over fences this season and trotted up in a very weak race at Southwell two runs back. I was desperate to get one more run into him before Cheltenham. He has to go left-handed and the only place I could find was Fakenham. He did not handle the track at all - it is a tight mile around and he was totally taken off his feet but he did stay on powerfully at the end to go past quite a few horses. I don’t think the trip will be an issue. He might not have the class but I like to think he will be staying on towards the finish.”

Kumbeshwar won three of his 12 starts on the Flat for trainer David Evans and gave his sire Doyen a first success when taking a seven-furlong Chester maiden in September, 2009. He was purchased by Max McNeill and Nigel Bunter after completing a hat-trick of Southwell victories in December, 2010, and made a winning debut for Alan King when staying on well to take a juvenile hurdle at Sandown two months later. He followed up that victory with a pair of third places - in the Victor Ludorum Hurdle Juvenile at Haydock and the Grade Two Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton - prior to going down by a neck to What A Charm in the Grade Three Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle at last year's Festival. He continued to impress with two subsequent seconds in Grade One company, finding Zarkandar a length and a quarter too strong in the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree and going down by nine lengths to Grandouet in the Punchestown 4YO Champion Hurdle. Kumbeshwar had two more starts over the smaller obstacles, disappointing in both a Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot in October and the Grade Three Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham's Open meeting the following month, but made an impressive debut over fences with a decisive victory in a Hereford novices' chase at the end of November. After coming home second behind Zaynar in a Grade Two novices' chase at Ascot's Christmas Meeting, Kumbeshwar regained the winning thread with an easy all-the-way success at Plumpton on January 2. He has finished second on his two most recent starts - in a Kempton novices' chase on January 14 and the Grade Two Lightning Novices' Chase at Doncaster on January 28. He holds entries at The Festival in the Jewson Novices' Chase, the Byrne Group Plate (10st 9lb) and the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase (10st 8lb).

Alan King said: “He is a good, tough horse who was just beaten in the Fred Winter under top-weight last year. He is running well over fences this season, winning two and finishing second in several Graded races. He clearly was not going to be good enough for the Arkle so we took him out of that and he has got entries in three races. It is pretty certain he will run in the Grand Annual - a fast-run two miles is what he wants. We may pop blinkers on him. He did wear them on the Flat with David Evans and they may sharpen him. The Grand Annual looks like it will be dominated by novices. He has 10st 8lb - he is a good tough horse and has just had a little break since Doncaster. We had been fairly hard on him and had run him three times in just over a fortnight. He worked great yesterday and nothing will faze him. Groundwise, he is very adaptable again.”

Lovcen, a winning Irish point-to-point winner, joined Alan King during the summer of 2011 and made his debut for the yard in a novices' hurdle at Exeter over two miles and six furlongs on November 1, when he finished fourth. He improved significantly for that run when winning by 17 lengths at Towcester on November 26, but failed to get further than the second hurdle when stepped up in trip in the Grade Two Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at Doncaster in January. Lovcen won on his first attempt in handicap company by six lengths at Wincanton on February 18. He is entered in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (11st 9lb).

Alan King said: “He has won two of his four starts this year. He only got to the second hurdle at Doncaster which is extremely unlike him. He won at Wincanton last Saturday over two miles and six furlongs in a handicap and was pretty impressive. He went up 12lb for that and I think he will almost certainly run in the Albert Bartlett. He probably wants three miles and is the most laid-back of horses. He won’t mind the ground and will be staying on at the finish.”

Medermit made three appearances in his native France, winning a maiden hurdle at Nantes in May, 2008, on his final start, prior to joining the King stable for the 2008/09 season. He made his debut for his new connections in a novice hurdle at Exeter in November, 2008, coming home a 13-length second to the Paul Nicholls-trained Mahonia, to whom he was conceding 10lb. He built on that effort when comfortably taking a novice hurdle at Folkestone two weeks later and continued to improve on his next appearance, capturing the Grade Two Kennel Gate Novices' Hurdle at Ascot the following month. Sent off a 12/1 chance for the William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle at The Festival in 2009, Medermit produced a career-best performance to go down by a neck to Go Native, despite being hampered by Cousin Vinny at the final flight. Medermit ended the campaign with a slightly disappointing effort in the Grade Two Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr, when he came home fifth behind Noble Alan. Connections were considering giving Medermit a chasing campaign for the 2009/2010 season and intended one final run over the smaller obstacles in the Grade Three Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham's Open meeting in November. Burdened with top-weight, Medermit bounced back to form with a fine third, going down by three lengths to the winner Khyber Kim, who was receiving 3lb. Both horses re-opposed on level weights at Cheltenham the following month and Medermit was once again beaten by Nigel Twiston-Davies' horse as he came home third. Medermit headed to The Festival in 2010 as a live contender for the Stan James Champion Hurdle following a four-length success in the Grade Two Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock and he ran a creditable race to finish seventh behind Binocular. He ended his campaign at Punchestown, coming home fourth behind Hurricane Fly in the Grade One Rabobank Champion Hurdle. Medermit was sent chasing last season and he made an impressive start over fence when comfortably winning a three-runner novices' chase at Aintree in October. He blotted his copybook on his next appearance in another novices' chase at Huntingdon the following month when refusing at the sixth fence but returned to winning ways at Plumpton in December, 2010, as he posted an easy success. Medermit stepped up to two miles and five furlongs for the first time of his career in the Grade Two Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham on New Year's Day 2011 and he produced another proficient display of jumping when going down by three quarters of a length to Hell's Bay. He continued his rise through the ranks as he lined up for the Grade One Challengers Novices' Chase over an extended two and a half miles at Sandown in February, 2011 as he repelled the late challenge of Captain Chris to prevail by half a length. But the Philip Hobbs-trained chaser turned the tables at The Festival as he powered to an impressive victory in the Grade One Racing Post Arkle Chase, with Medermit only able to finish fourth. Medermit also had to play second fiddle to another of Hobbs' chasers at Aintree, this time finding Wishfull Thinking 10 lengths too strong in the Grade Two Manifesto Chase over two and a half miles. He kicked off the current season with a game victory in the Grade Two Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on November 1 and stayed on to take third behind Master Minded and Somersby in the Grade Two Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot 19 days later. Medermit returned to handicap company for the Grade Three Spinal Research The Atlantic 4 Gold Cup (run over the same course and distance as the Ryanair Chase) at Cheltenham on December 10 and ran an excellent race in defeat as he went down by three quarters of a length to Quantitativeeasing despite being hampered three fences from home. He stepped back up to Grade One company for the Betfair Ascot Chase on February 18 and he once again ran superbly in defeat when chasing home Riverside Theatre. Both horses could meet again in the Grade One Ryanair Chase although Medermit also has the option of stepping up to beyond three miles for the first time in his career in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Alan King said: “He has enjoyed a grand season. He won the Haldon Gold Cup and has been placed on every run since. He ran a smashing race the other day at Ascot when just beaten by Riverside Theatre. I don’t know whether he will run in the Ryanair or the Gold Cup. Every day I wake up, I have a different idea about where he should run. I am certain he will stay three miles but whether he will get three and a quarter in a Gold Cup is going to be a big question, especially as there looks to be a huge amount of pace in the race this year. He is in good order and worked very well yesterday. We will see which way the owners want to go. I am fairly relaxed about it. I wish they would make the decision but they want me to.”

Midnight Appeal failed to get off the mark in seven starts in bumpers and over hurdles, but he has been transformed since going chasing. The seven-year-old won on his chasing debut at Huntingdon in handicap (February 11, 2011), and subsequently took three more races at Wincanton, Newton Abbot and Bangor. He started this season off in good form when finishing second to Roudoudou Ville in a Sandown handicap chase on November 5, before coming third behind Qianshan Leader at Kempton 16 days later. He returned to Kempton over Christmas and finished second to Fruity O'Rooney before getting another victory on the board at Sandown over three miles on February 17. He is entered in Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (11st 4lb).

Alan King said: “This horse only came into our Cheltenham team last week. He was an impressive winner at Sandown and he is going the Kim Muir route. He wasn’t even sighted in a hurdle race let alone won one but he has been successful five times out of eight over fences and placed on every other occasion. We popped a pair of blinkers on him at Sandown and it seemed to transform him. He jumped and travelled very smoothly and was pretty impressive at the end. I think he is up to 136 or 137 so he has made quite amazing progress in the last year as he won his first race off a rating in the high 90s. He won’t mind good ground and will be ridden by Robbie Henderson.”

Montbazon was purchased at Doncaster in May, 2010, for £28,000 and made his debut for the yard at Kempton on February 11, 2011, when he finished second behind subsequent Weatherbys Champion Bumper winner Cheltenian. He improved for that outing when running away with the DBS Spring Sales Bumper on March 5, before finishing second to Steps To Freedom in a Grade Two contest at Aintree. He returned this season with a solid effort in a Listed bumper at The Open in November, before finding subsequent Grade One placed Colour Squadron too good on his hurdling debut at Newbury. Montbazon then won very impressively at Plumpton in January before beating a top-quality field at Newbury that included Vulcanite and Colour Squadron on February 17. He is entered in the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Alan King said: “He is heading for the Supreme Novice on the Tuesday. He was a high-class bumper horse last year. He has won his last two races. He had a confidence-booster at Plumpton and then he won well at Newbury. He had just come to take it up there when Colour Squadron fell. I think he is learning all the time and the more experience he gets the better. He worked very well yesterday and he is certainly a horse who wouldn’t mind the good ground which is forecast. There is very little rain forecast for Cheltenham.”

Raya Star made a winning start to his career with a comfortable success in a Uttoxeter bumper in March, 2010. After taking second in another bumper at Bangor later the same year, he made an inauspicious debut over hurdles when falling at the penultimate flight in a novices' hurdle at Fontwell in January, 2011. He made amends on his next start at Doncaster the following month but his jumping errors resurfaced as he fell at Kempton in March, 2011 before ending the season with a fourth in a Hereford novices' hurdle later the same month. Raya Star started the current campaign in May with a second in an Aintree handicap hurdle and he returned from a break to comfortably take a similar contest at Wetherby on October 28, when he conceded weight to all 11 of his rivals. He built on that effort with a fine third behind the Paul Nicholls-trained pair of Rock On Ruby and Empire Levant in the Listed Gerry Feilden Hurdle at Newbury on November 26 and posted the biggest success of his career to date with a storming success in the Listed Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on December 17. Raya Star headed back to Newbury for another lucrative handicap, the Betfair Hurdle, on February 17 and he ran another superb race to come home third behind leading Stan James Champion Hurdle contender Zarkandar and Get Me Out Of Here. Raya Star is among the leading contenders for the Grade Three Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle (10st 8lb).

Alan King said: “He has enjoyed a very good season. He ran well in the Gerry Fielden and then won the Ladbroke at Ascot before Christmas We gave him a break after that and he ran another sound race at Newbury 10 days ago when third. He keeps creeping up the weights - he went up 3lb for that. He only has the one entry - in the County Hurdle - we did think about two and a half miles but rather than confuse the issue did not enter him for anything else. I think the stiff track at Cheltenham will help him. The surprising thing in both the big handicaps we have run him in this season has been the lack of pace. I am sure he wants a strong-run race and feel the hill will suit. He might not be handicapped to win a County Hurdle but I would be disappointed if he was not in with a shout going to the last. He was extremely highly strung but he has got better. He is one horse who has certainly benefited from earplugs which have calmed him down no end.”

Secret Edge made nine starts on the Flat for Alan King, with the highlight of a modest career on the level proving to be a game neck victory in a two-mile maiden at Goodwood in August, 2011. He took second on his hurdling debut at Chepstow in October but improved for that effort to win a Listed juvenile hurdle at Wetherby later the same month. Secret Edge then headed to Cheltenham and ran a sound race to finish third behind Hinterland and Hollow Tree in the Grade Two JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at The Open on November 12. He appreciated a drop in class on his next start as he easily won a Fontwell juvenile hurdle on December 6 and came home third in the Grade One Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on December 27. Secret Edge's latest start also yielded a third place as he kept on in the closing stages to come home behind stable companion Batonnier and Broad Back Bob in the Grade Two Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle on Festival Trials Day, January 28, at Cheltenham. He holds four entries at the Festival - the Grade One Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, the Grade Three Coral Cup (for which he has been given 9st 12lb), the Grade Three Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (10st 13lb) and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (10st 11lb).

Alan King said: “He has multiple entries. Looking at the weights yesterday, because of his weight for age allowance - he looks pretty unlikely to get in the Martin Pipe. I would be very nervous of the two miles of the Fred Winter for him. I will have a word with Nigel (Bunter - owner) and would to love to run him somewhere at The Festival. It could well be the Neptune but we will keep our options open.”

Smad Place showed little promise in two starts on the Flat in the French provinces for his owner/trainer/breeder Eric Aubree but displayed better form in two starts over hurdles including when chasing home Taikanous at Chateaubriant in July, 2010. He made a winning debut for Alan King in a Newbury juvenile hurdle in November 2010, as he recorded a facile 27-length success over the Paul Nicholls-trained 1/4 favourite Dolatulo. Buoyed by that victory, connections aimed Smad Place at the Grade One Coral Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in January, 2011, and he ran well to finish third behind Marsh Warbler. He readily captured a novices' hurdle at Wincanton the following month and finished a creditable 10th, beaten 11 lengths, in the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival last year. Smad Place made an impressive start to the current season as he ran on strongly to easily take the Grade Two Holloways' Hurdle over just shy of two and a half miles at Ascot on January 21. He returned to the Berkshire course for his latest start in a handicap hurdle and ran admirably in defeat as he went down by three and a half lengths to the Donald McCain-trained Bourne, who was receiving more than two stone. Smad Place could step up to three miles for the first time in the Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdle (St Patrick's Thursday, March 15) or could take his chance in the Grade Three Coral Cup over two miles, five furlongs (Ladies Day, March 14), for which he has been allotted joint top-weight of 11st 12lb.

Alan King said: “He was good juvenile hurdler last season despite the fact he was never really right and we had a lot of trouble healthwise/lungwise last year. He summered extremely well and I was pleased with him in October but then he threw a splint in October and it took quite a while for him to come right again. His seasonal debut was delayed until Ascot in January. He went back to Ascot a fortnight ago and just failed to give Donald McCain’s horse 29lb. He has been raised again for that I cannot really see him winning a Coral Cup with 11st 12lb. If he goes to Cheltenham, he will go to the World Hurdle. It will be his first try at three miles but I think is probably crying out for a step-up in trip. My slight concern would be the ground if it was fast - he needs a bit of rain. He is going to be high-class novice chase prospect next season.”

Valdez could line up in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper following a pair of cosy victories. The Doyen gelding opened his account with a facile eight-length success over Thomas Crapper at Warwick in March, 2011 and maintained his 100 per cent record with swooping neck victory on the Polytrack of Kempton Park on February 10.

Alan King said: “He is unbeaten - two from two - and he goes to Newbury this weekend. We will see how he gets on and then he has the option of going to the Cheltenham bumper.”

Vendor heads the market for the Grade Three Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle after making an eye-catching debut victory for Alan King in a Newbury juvenile hurdle on December 31. The Kendor gelding slipped on landing after the final flight but still managed to comfortably beat Tango De Juilley by a length and a half. Vendor had previously remained a maiden in six starts over hurdles in France for his handler Emmanuel Clayeux, although he had shown a decent level of form including a clear second at Auteuil in October. He has been allotted 10st 4lb for the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on Ladies Day, Wednesday, March 14 and still remains engaged in the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle on Cheltenham Gold Cup Day, Friday, March 16.

Alan King said: “He is Fred Winter bound. He came from France where he had good form around Auteuil over hurdles - he never ran on the Flat. He would have been placed in a Grade One at Auteuil but for falling at the last. We have only given him the one run when he won at Newbury. He missed the last and landed very awkwardly and did well to catch the other horse - one of Venetia’s who went on to finish fourth to Grumeti. I think but for that he would not have come off the bridle. I couldn’t quite believe it when the handicapper put him in with 122 following that run and we decided not run him again - take the mark. He has gone up since standing in the stable to a mark of 129 but I would be very disappointed if he is not a whole lot better than that. His work is extremely good. He has not raced on good ground but he is good-actioned horse and I would be surprised if he did not handle it. He might actually improve for a bit of better ground. He shows plenty of speed and I think he is an exciting prospect whatever happens at The Festival. He is a real high-class horse.”

Bred by the Marquesa de Moratalla, Walkon started his career on the Flat under the care of French handler Keven Borgel, winning four of his seven starts before being purchased for the McNeill Family in the summer of 2008. He made a winning start to his hurdling career for Alan King at Huntingdon in November, 2008, and emerged as one the leading juvenile hurdlers that season, winning the Grade One Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow and the Grade Two JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham in January, 2009. After finding only Zaynar three quarters of a length too strong in the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at the 2009 Festival, Walkon ended a superb first season in Britain with a stunning 13-length victory in the Grade One Anniversary 4-Y-O Novices' Hurdle at Aintree's Grand National meeting. Walkon was forced to miss the whole of the 2009/2010 season after injuring himself in that race and he finally returned to action in the Grade Two Holloways' Hurdle at Ascot in January, 2011, when he ran a superb race to go down by half a length to Tiger O'Toole. After such a promising run, Walkon was sent off favourite for the Grade Three totesport Trophy at Newbury the following month but he could only finish 10th in the fiercely competitive handicap hurdle. He ran a slightly better race on his final start of the 2010/2011 campaign as he came home seventh in the Grade Three Coral Cup at the Festival. Walkon was sent chasing this season and he made a winning debut over fences when easily accounting for his 2009 Festival nemesis Zaynar in an Exeter novices' chase on December 2. A couple of late mistakes cost Walkon any chance in a novices' chase at Newbury on December 31 but he produced a more proficient round of jumping on his return to the Berkshire course to come home fourth in the re-arranged Grade One Scilly Isles Novices' Chase on February 17. Walkon holds an entry in the Grade One RSA Chase or he could line up in the Grade Three JLT Specialty Chase (11st 3lb) - a race Alan King has won with Fork Lightning (2004) and Bensalem (2011).

Alan King said: “He is being aimed at the RSA but I would be concerned with the ground with him if there was no rain. He has had problems in the past. We just have to be a little bit careful on that front. He was a high-class hurdler and he made an excellent chasing debut at Exeter in November. He has got beaten twice around Newbury since. I just feel he is crying out for a step up in trip, hence the RSA if he does run at The Festival. I did read yesterday that he might be a horse who does not like Newbury - he has been there four times and been beaten on every occasion. I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t like the place - it is a big galloping track. He is in good order.”

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