Cheltenham Festival: D-day for Alan King

kingyI’M a huge fan of the Alan King yard. I’ve followed his fortunes closely this season, when a golden autumn quickly changed into a grey, grim winter of discontent. The yard sensibly shut up shop in January to contain and eradicate a bug that affected most of the Barbury Castle inmates. Happily, the tide is beginning to turn. Valdez and First Mohican have both triumphed recently and cemented their Cheltenham Festival credentials. But this Saturday’s racing could be pivotal for the yard. In fact, weather permitting, it is the most important day of the season for King and his team.

At Newbury the wraps finally come off the talented MONTBAZON in the Betfair Hurdle. It’s 697 days since he jumped the last in front in the Supreme at the Cheltenham Festival. That was a feat in itself as he didn’t jump well that day and, indeed, he also fluffed his lines at the last, which may have cost him a couple of places. It is a huge ask to come back in such a tough race and on ground which may not play to his strengths. But off a mark of 140, he is the dark horse of the field and it would be no surprise if he was to run a massive race. Anything bigger than 20/1 is worth an each-way nibble. Stablemate Vendor is more fancied in the same race and the strong gallop will suit him. He should also run well.

SMAD PLACE is a gorgeous individual although he doesn’t take much racing. He will have to dispose of Mendip Express and Sam Winner if he is to be considered a serious RSA Chase contender, although King is not a big fan of the race. Conditions will suit at  Newbury although Mendip Express could be a formidable opponent if it becomes a slog.

RAYA STAR goes in the Game Spirit and renews rivalry with Dodging Bullets, who beat him by five lengths at Cheltenham in the autumn. Raya Star is 5lb better off but, more importantly, he needs a strong gallop and with the small field, he might not get it. He has always struck me as an ideal type for the Grand Annual, where they go lickety split and he could be played late.

WALKON needs to finish in the first four in the Denman Chase and with only five runners it should be a case of “job done”. But he will relish the conditions and goes well fresh, and although he may not cope with Al Ferof and Harry Topper he should run well en route to Aintree.

The advantage of having two top-class jockeys on his books will come into play on Saturday and with Choc Thornton at Newbury, Wayne Hutchinson goes to Warwick to ride four for the trainer. Of most interest is BALDER SUCCES who should cement his place in the Arkle in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase, as long as he is over the problem that saw him disappoint in the Henry VIII at Sandown.

L’UNIQUE promised so much after winning a Grade One at Aintree but has been disappointing since, so connections will be hoping for a better run in the mares’ race. I also strongly fancy MIDNIGHT PRAYER while TICKITY BLEUE should also go very close.

One other horse catches the eye: VIVALDI COLLONGES has run two races full of promise for Paul Nicholls and he could be hard to beat in the last at Warwick.

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