“We haven’t got a very big team this year.”
Alan King gives us the low-down on his Cheltenham Festival hopes and two runners to lookout for this weekend in front of the ITV cameras.
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McCoy Contractors County Hurdle
Smart dual purpose performer Tritonic will sidestep Kelso’s Morebattle Hurdle this weekend, missing out on the possibility of landing the £100,000 bonus, instead heading straight for the County Hurdle at The Festival.
The five-year-old scooped the Betfair Exchange Trophy in December but failed to threaten in the Christmas Hurdle and Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle.
With five starts already this season, King is hoping for a promising run at Prestbury Park before a short spell on the flat over the summer. He revealed: “He might have a run or two on the flat, we’ll see.
“He wants a good break as well, it's very important for these horses to have down time. We could have a run or two on the flat but we would want him to have a proper summer as well.”
Nina The Terrier
Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle
A dual winner already this season, Nina the Terrier is set to line up in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. She stepped up in class last time out to contest the Grade Two Jane Seymour Mares' Novices' Hurdle at Sandown but was firmly held by the improving Love Envoi of the Harry Fry stable.
King revealed: “We’ll come back to two miles with her. I was very happy with her at Sandown, in conditions that were very testing but she ran well.
“She was very fresh, I just wanted to take the edge of her a little and she’s come out of it in good form.”
The Wiltshire based trainer believes a sounder surface will suit this six-year-old, King said: “I think Cheltenham and two miles will suit, they’ll probably go very hard.
“She’s a big price but I could see her running very well in that - particularly if the ground dries.”
Willie Mullins has largely dominated the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle since it’s introduction to the Festival schedule, winning five out of the six renewals of the race, but King has come close before with Dusky Legend placing in 2016 and 2017.
King sees similarities in this year’s hope Nina The Terrier, He said: “I’ve run similar types in this race before and they’ve finished placed at big prices.
“This filly would have as good form or even better than her (Dusky Legend).”
Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Synonymous with training talented juvenile hurdles, Barbury Castle might have a very nice one that has perhaps slipped under the radar.
Forever William was consistent on the flat over middle distance and has mixed it at the top level over hurdles this season after winning on debut at Newbury.
King said: “He might run in the Fred Winter, I’ll see. He’s not quite up to the Triumph.”
The four-year-old finished third in the Grade One Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow over the festive period but was last seen plugging on behind the well touted Irish raider Pied Piper on Trials Day at Cheltenham.
King noted that a brisk, fast pace would suit the youngster and hinted he could be seen over staying trips in the future, He said: “Definitely, I think he’s crying out for two and a half miles but there are not too many options for the Juveniles over that trip.
“I think next season he’ll definitely be stepping up in trip.”
The Glancing Queen
Paddy Power Plate or Mares Chase
Holding an official rating of 141, The Glancing Queen has two options at The Festival and she is well fancied for both.
The eight-year-old was waited with before going over hurdles, after displaying plenty of pace in bumpers. This season she has been faultless over fences, racking up two mares listed wins before being a runner up to L’Homme Presse in the Dipper Novices' Chase.
“She was always going to make a lovely chaser,” said King.
He continued, “We bumped into a superstar in Venetia’s horse on New Year’s Day - I don't think there was any disgrace in that.”
King suggested it will be left to his judgement which engagement his leading lady will go to, He said: “We’ve deliberately kept her fresh, she has not run since New Year’s Day - that’s a positive for her really.
“We will give ourselves the option and we will leave her in both. I think she will run well but I just want her to go where I think she will have the best chance.”
Entered in The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Saturday - Kelso, Premier Novices' Hurdle
The McNeill Family have a plethora of horses in Alan King’s care and one exciting prospect is North Lodge.
King implied the five-year-old may not be mature enough to take up his entry in the Ballymore but will first head to Kelso this weekend.
“I don’t think he’ll run (in the Ballymore). He’ll go to Kelso this weekend and if that went well we would probably go on to Aintree. I don't think we will see him at Cheltenham, he’s not ready for that this year.”
An eye-catching winner of Grade Two Classic Novices' Hurdle on Festival Trials day, King suggested there is more to come from the dual winner, He said: “He is a lovely young horse, but he’s a long way from the finished article.
“We’ve got to just mind him. He’ll probably have two more runs this season which will be more than enough for him, but he’s likely a horse with a big future I think.”
Entered in The Ultima Handicap Chase and Kim Muir Handicap Chase
Saturday, Doncaster 15:30 - Grimthorpe Handicap Chase
“Yeah not certain - He might go to Doncaster this weekend for the Grimthorpe which is possible but no more than that for the moment.”
Barbury Castle’s flagship star is to miss the Festival and instead opt for Aintree.
“Doesn’t run (in the Champion Chase) - He’ll go straight to Aintree.”
Not A Chance
The Midlands National is only in the balance or the classy stayer.
“He might come down in grade and he could find an ordinary handicap for him, he needs to get his season back on track. Maybe running him in one of those really competitive races wouldn’t be the right thing for him. It would only be 50/50 if he runs there - (Midlands National).”
A return to Sandown in the spring is on the agenda once again for Potterman.
“He wasn’t quite right last weekend so we couldn’t run him at Kempton, I’d like to get a run into him somewhere but if we didn’t it wouldn't be the end of the world.
“He’ll go for the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown again.”