Alan King expects to have a smaller team of horses than previous years at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival with his total number of runners just hitting double figures. He has been hit by a barrage on injuries with Bensalem now joining Invictus, Medermit, Batonnier, Montbazon, and Grumeti on the sidelines.
World Hurdle: Smad Place
"I've been pleased with him. I had him in at Fontwell on Sunday but I thought it was a bit close, but he worked very well this morning."
John Oaksey National Hunt Chase: Godsmejudge
"He'll get the four-mile trip well, although he wouldn't want it to dry up too much.Warwick takes a lot of jumping and I think he'd have to be one of my best chances of the week."
Earlier this sesaon: "Consistent staying handicap hurdler last season and moved from 118 to 123 after beating Hassadin two and three quarter lengths at Uttoxeter in March. "Fine and has schooled well, goes to Stratford on November 1 for a novice chase - a 0 to 125 which means he's only 2lb wrong. Thorough stayer."
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle: McVicar
Earlier in the season: " Modest middle distance handicapper for Mick Channon but much better effort on hurdle debut when beating Fisher just over a length at Kempton on October 21. He'll school again and I'll have a look at the Wensleydale Hurdle at Wetherby on November 2. It's possible I might give him an easier race than that next time because although he'll be sharper I don't want to over face him."
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle: King Of Dudes
7 Feb "Earlier in the week King Of Dudes clearly didn't enjoy the ground at Ludlow when coming home fourth. He is a good-actioned horse, but I have to get three runs into him in order to get a handicap mark for the Fred Winter, so I had no option but to run. He needs one more run in the next fortnight and I will be scanning the calendar trying to find a suitable option."
Pertemps Final: Hold on Julio
20 Feb " Hold on Julio ran encouragingly in the 3m handicap hurdle at Haydock and that has ensured he will get a run in the Pertemps Final. He travelled and jumped well on ground that was heavier than ideal for him. He could be interesting at the festival."
Other runners could include Walkon in the Byrne Group Plate and Kumbeswar in the Grand Annual.
King recently spoke to Racing Post TV about his 2013 Cheltenham Festival team. We have also been tracking the yard on the Alan King Stable Tour thread:
Earlier this season (Novemeber 2012) Alan King spoke to the same source about his horses in training for 2012-13. We have those videos courtesy of the RPTV YouTube channel here:
Alan King has also been providing updates on his horses through his website alankingracing.co.uk. We tracked news on some of his early season news releases below:
Reynoldstown Chase winner "Invictus picked up an injury when being prepared for the RSA Chase at the last Cheltenham Festival, and, though he is making steady progress, he will be out for the whole of this jumps season, as will Batonnier. They are two of the stable's big guns so it is disappointing, but these are the hazards of NH racing, and the good thing is that both horses will still only be seven when they return."
The Alan King racing website added:
"Invictus won three of his four races in his first season over fences culminating with that brilliant Reynoldstown success at Ascot, where he beat Bobs Worth by three lengths and, inevitably with the latter going on to win the RSA, Alan's thoughts walking off the stand at Cheltenham in March included the words "what might have been".
Similarly, it is a wrench losing Batonnier for the entire season. He never stopped improving in his first winter over hurdles and after winning a Grade 2 at Cheltenham's January meeting it was hoped that he would be one of our major players at the March Festival, only for him to have to be pulled out of the Prestbury Park squad when he knocked a joint."
On a more positive note he also reported a few additions to the team :
Back in September King advised:
"We have received two new four-year-olds from Trevor Hemmings, one by Beneficial and the other by Definite Article, which is exciting, while we have also purchased a very nice Nayef three-year-old from John Oxx called Handazan. He won his maiden by eight lengths in testing ground at Leopardstown and then finished fourth in a Listed race at Roscommon, and he looks to have a touch of class. He has had just the one school so far, but he could be exciting, too."
and issued an upbeat report this week :
"I have already told you how highly we rate Handazan, our recent recruit from John Oxx, but he, too, has really strengthened up this past month. He is still an entire, but you would not know the way he conducts himself around the yard, and I have been very pleased both with his attitude and his schooling. We have not pencilled in a first race yet, but he will want the ground on the soft side of good. He came to us with a Flat rating of 98, so he definitely has a touch of class, and we might even start him off at Chepstow on Saturday, when we have also entered Hold on Julio and Medinas.
King also revealed high hopes for some of the younger horses
"We could well launch Valdez within the next month. He was a smart bumper horse, being beaten just the once, in the Doncaster Sales race at Newbury, where he was a bit too gassy, but he will go straight over hurdles now. He is ready to roll and we have just been waiting for the ground, but I like him very much.
"Jojabean will also go novice hurdling. He is a full-brother to Raya Star, who did us proud last season, and from what I have seen I think this fellow is also above-average. He damaged a pelvis after running a promising fourth in a bumper at Ascot early on and was on the easy list for six months, only returning in the spring, when he finished third at Folkestone. I put him away after that to give him a good summer break and he has done well. I like him.
"Another 'V' I like is Vendor. He has won two out of three for me since coming over from France, but I am still not sure just how good he is. He ran an amazing race in the Triumph at Cheltenham to finish third, having been shuffled back early on. He won his only subsequent race at Towcester very easily, but he has really strengthened up through the summer and has also settled down. He used to be quite free, but he is starting to relax. He will stay over hurdles this season and we could well step him up to two and a half which should suit him.
"We are just starting to crack things up a bit with both Pirates Cay and Two Rockers. Pirates Cay won his point-to-point at Lisronagh in May, and he is a good mover who has pleased me in what we have done so far. He will start off over hurdles, as will Two Rockers, who is another who has already won between the flags. He is a big, powerful individual and he won eight lengths at Largy in April. Like Pirates Cay, he looks every inch a chaser, but, he, too will start off over hurdles.
"However, Handazan is not the only three-year-old we like. We have also acquired McVicar, who, like our Champion Hurdle winner Katchit, came to us from Mick Channon. He arrived with a glowing reference from none other than Henrietta Knight, who has done plenty of schooling with him. He was a decent handicapper on the Flat and I have been pleased with his early schooling, so he could be making his debut before the end of the month.
"Another who will be going down the juvenile hurdle route is Nelson's Bay, who won on the Flat for Brian Meehan. They tell me that he will want good ground, but he has pleased on the schooling grounds and could also be out on the track by the end of the month.
"Salden Licht is eight, so hardly qualified for this section, but I am delighted to have him back. His rating went up 13lb two seasons ago - he improved that much - but, sadly, he sustained an injury last season which kept him off all winter. He is a high-class handicap hurdler, as you saw when he won a competitive race at Exeter, but he is high enough in the ratings now, so won't be easy to place. However, he is a big, strong horse who won't find fences any problem - we have not yet schooled him yet, but he'll be ok, and that could be the route that we will take."
King also provided updates on his more established stars:
"We decided against running Grumeti at Royal Ascot, and he has really benefited from his summer break. He went on his holidays later than some of the others, so has not been back that long, but there is nothing early on for second-season hurdlers so there is no rush.
"I would not think that Grumeti would reappear until early December, and, ideally, I would like to give him one run before his first main target which is the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. He proved one of last season's stars, and his Grade 1 success at Aintree gave us a huge thrill."
Our biggest money-earner last season was Raya Star, and Alan said:"He won both The Ladbroke at Ascot and the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr, besides finishing an excellent third in the Betfair Hurdle, so he did us proud.
"He used to be a very nervous individual, but since we fitted him with earplugs he has been much more relaxed and he is now easier to train. The plan will be to send him over fences this season, and he schooled over the big ones a couple of years ago so we know that he can jump.
"However, we will give Raya Star one or two more races over hurdles first, and we are very much thinking of the race they used to call the Greatwood on the Sunday of Cheltenham's Open meeting in November."
Alan is doubtful whether Manyriverstocross will be quite ready for that race, in which he finished third in two years ago. He added:"It's just great to have Manyriverstocross back. He finished third to Get Me Out Of Here in the Totesport Trophy at Newbury in 2010, but he suffered an injury the following November and has not raced since. He, too, will go chasing after a couple of runs over hurdles, but he is unlikely to be ready for the Open meeting."
If Grumeti is our star young hurdler, then Balder Succes is not too far adrift of him, and Alan is pleased with the way this fellow has progressed through the summer.
He said:"Everything went smoothly for Balder Succes in January and February, but, unfortunately, he tipped up at the fourth in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, and things did not improve at Punchestown, where he was blinded going to the first and parted company with 'Choc' (Thornton). He has thickened up well during his break, and, though he is not as forward as some, having been held up for a couple of weeks recently, he is still one we are very much looking forward to, and he will stay down the hurdles route."
So, too, for the time being will Lovcen, who became the only horse to inflict defeat on Fingal Bay when winning the Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree."He will start off in the three-mile Listed handicap hurdle at next month's Paddy Power meeting at Cheltenham, but the plan is to send him over fences after Christmas," said Alan.
Alan has not yet made his mind up whether to send Smad Place chasing or stay over hurdles. He said:"He just got better and better last winter and produced a career-best performance to finish third to Big Buck's in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham. We will definitely start back over hurdles and we'll look for one run over two and a half before he tackles the three-mile hurdle at Newbury on Hennessy day."
Another bound for Newbury that day could be Hold on Julio, who has been pencilled in for the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup itself. Alan said:"He started off for us winning at Sandown off a mark of 117, and he ended up on 144, having beaten Grand National winner Neptune Collonges by nine lengths on the same track. Sadly, a cough interupted his preparation for Cheltenham, and, though we got him to the Festival for the JLT Speciality Chase, he was only 90% right, and he did not run up to form. He has done well through the summer and the Hennessy is a race that could suit him, though should Long Run take part off 178, we would be running outside the handicap which is something I am never keen on doing. He is still a novice over hurdles, so we might choose that route for his pipe-opener."
There was no tougher horse in the team last year than Kumbeshwar, who won novice chases at Plumpton and Hereford and then made the frame in Graded races at Doncaster, Cheltenham (he was third in the Grand Annual) and Aintree.
Alan said:"I am not sure how much he can improve on what he did last year, but he will be focussing on the big meetings and we might start him off in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter."
Montbazon has long been the apple of Alan's eye, and he is such a good looking individual that you could pick him out at 100 paces. "We had to nurse him last season as he was plagued with sore shins, but he is a horse with so much natural ability and if we get a clear run with him he could be very good. He was disputing the lead going to the last in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, eventually being run out of it up the hill and finishing fourth, but he is much stronger this time around, so we have high hopes with him, though where we start him off I have not yet decided."
Medermit (167) is the highest-rated horse in the yard, having peppered the wire since winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter on his first start last season.
Alan added:"Medermit was never out of the money in five subsequent races, and he had two epic battles with Riverside Theatre, at Ascot and again in the Ryanair at Cheltenham. He is another who has thrived for a holiday, and he will start off in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree on October 27, after which we will look at the Betfair Chase at Haydock. I think the three miles there will suit him - he stayed well enough when he tried it at Aintree, where, in hindsight, he had had enough for the season - and, though he won't find it easy this season, he has already bagged £300,000 in prize money, so we have no complaints there."
He later clarified : ""I don't know if he can improve any more, but hopefully he can maintain where he is and we will just have to see. We definitely want to go the three-mile route with him this season and I would say, all things being equal after Aintree, we will step him up in trip. We would be looking at races like the Betfair Chase and the King George."
Mention of Aintree brought the subject around to West End Rocker, who fell at the second in last season's Grand National, having made a mistake at the first after getting stirred up at the start. "He had won the Becher Chase there by 22 lengths in December, but the National is a totally different type of race and I am not sure we will target that this winter. He could well go back for the Becher again, though, and he is still a major player for some of the top staying handicap chases, though he won't be going to Cheltenham. It is not his track."