Established stars may be in short supply for Alan King – but with an exciting team of youngsters assembled, that could all change by the end of the season.
There is strong competition to become King’s stable flag-bearer this campaign, with any number of those set to go novice hurdling possessing the potential.
Currently in the number one spot, though, is Sceau Royal – who finished second to Altior in the Celebration Chase on the final day of the season and will bid to to register back-to-back victories in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham next month.
King said: “At the last, he looked for a second that he had Altior in trouble in the Champion Chase – then ran a marvellous race behind him again at Sandown at the end of the year.
“His only disappointing run was in the Tingle Creek, but the ground was way too heavy for him.
“We will go to the Shloer again, then we will take it from there. There would be a possibility that we could look at the Peterborough, because I would like to try two and a half at some stage.
“That might be a hot race, with the bonus that they have put in, but you have also got the Desert Orchid at Kempton.”
While Sceau Royal had to settle for second best at Sandown in April, stablemate Talkischeap scored an emphatic victory in the bet365 Gold Cup – a win which has set the ball rolling for a possible tilt at the Grand National.
King said: “I did go there hoping he would run very well, but I didn’t expect a performance quite like that. As a consequence, he has been thumped for it (by the handicapper). I suppose the Ladbrokes Trophy would be a target for him.
“We could give him a run over hurdles before that, or take him away and work him and go straight there, but the chances are we will try to get a run into him.
“Long term, the owner is keen to go to Aintree, so we will work backwards from there. I do think he is slightly ground dependent – he is a much better horse on decent ground.”
The Glancing Queen looked a potential top-class performer with victory in the Grade Two mares’ bumper at Aintree in the spring, and King expects the five-year-old to take top rank among his novice hurdle team.
He said: “She was very good at Aintree, and we don’t get ones like her too often. She had a little bit of a blip, with a hold-up with her knee, but I’d hope we have her back out before Christmas.
“It was a strong race at Aintree, and the form is rock solid. The way she travelled through the race – she came there tanking – she is very exciting.
“We took the boys on a couple of times last year, but I would have thought she would start back against mares. I don’t think I’d be afraid to start her at two miles, although she would get two and a half. She is not slow, by any means.”
Sheshoon Sonny showed steady progression before rounding out his campaign with victory on his third and final start at Wetherby, and King believes it could be the first of many.
He said: “He just got better and better. I was going to run him at the Scottish National meeting at Ayr, but the ground just got a bit quick.
“He wants some dig because he is a big, heavy horse. A stiff two or two and a half is what he wants. He has schooled grand and would have jumped a few hundred hurdles last season, even though he was a bumper horse.”
The season tailed off a little for Alsa Mix following her Grade Two victory at Sandown in December, but hopes are high she can feature prominently in the mares’ novice chase division.
King said: “My plan at the moment is to send Alsa Mix novice chasing. She is a good mare and probably had a hard race in the Grade Two at Sandown that she won, and it probably took the edge off her.
“She has had a proper summer holiday, which she didn’t have last year because she had a stress fracture. She has done well and had a school over fences, and jumped grand.”
King is confident a patient approach can pay dividends with the JP McManus-owned Heart Of A Lion.
He said: “He won in a canter at Southwell. He wasn’t a summer jumper, but he got a stress fracture in the winter and was off for a while. I was desperate to give him one run.
“He is another that will stay in bumpers and could be one for the sales race at Newbury. I think he is high class.”
Others to note
“He ran well plenty of times last season without winning – then he just sulked at Cheltenham, because he got headed and couldn’t get into a rhythm, but he is probably better on a flat track. He did incredibly well through the summer and has taken a bit of getting fit.
“Those good three-mile staying chases at places like Doncaster suit him, but he could be one for the bet365 Gold Cup at the end of the season.”
“He didn’t win in three starts last season, but he is a lovely, big horse. I think we bumped into a good horse every time. He will now go hurdling. I would have thought a stiff two to start, somewhere like Exeter would be ideal for him.”
“He is one I’ve earmarked for the Greatwood. He wasn’t fully wound up for his comeback at Chepstow, and he just got tired in that ground. He was a bit fresh and gassy.
“I thought he, along with the others that ran at Chepstow, were a bit short for soft ground – and I was right. He has got just under a month until Cheltenham and has come out of it well.”
“We schooled him over fences in the summer, and he jumps super. He is going to have a run over hurdles first, because he can be very fresh on his first run back. Hopefully that will take the edge off him – then he will go novice chasing. I think he is pretty smart.”
“He is a lovely, big horse- and although the penny was slow to drop on his debut, he ended up winning well in the end. We might give him one more run in a bumper, just from an experience point of view, but he has schooled very well.”
“They were quite hard on him for winning that Listed race at Market Rasen. It was a good prize to win, but did he have 10lb in hand? I’m not so sure. He is fine, and I’d imagine he will run in the Gerry Feilden -but that is not until the end of November, so there is a chance he could go for the November Handicap at Doncaster in between.”
The Cull Bank
“The ground was too quick when she got beat in that Listed race at Cheltenham. She has only just come back and won’t be ready for a while. We will probably stay hurdling with her this year, because she has only had the three runs. It will be December time before we see her.”
“He will go juvenile hurdling. We are a bit thin on the ground this season. He is the best of them, because it doesn’t look like Trueshan is going jumping now. He has been absolutely grand. He is never flash in anything he does.”
Who Dares Wins
“He is a smashing horse and has always jumped hurdles like he wants a fence, and that is what we are thinking. He is a wonderful old horse.”
“She won her bumper at Uttoxeter last year, although she surprised me a bit because we never had her off the bridle at home. She was very green, but the further she went the better she was. I think the plan is to stay in bumpers this season, if all goes well. She will probably run somewhere with a penalty, then go to Huntingdon for the Listed mares’ bumper in December.”