Medermit to make a mark
White horses have been pretty much two a penny in Wiltshire over the centuries and even nowadays six ghostly etched silhouettes can be seen prancing on the Marlborough Downs between the M4 and the Vale Of Pewsey.
But focus right now in those parts is on one of the real things. Medermit's coat is not yet chalk-hued, though it will be eventually with the passing of time. But the steel in his grey will do for now, matching the resolve of his trainer Alan King.
Three weeks today, the opening afternoon of the Cheltenham Festival, the six-year-old will take his chance in the Champion Hurdle.
At the same session a year previously, the five-year-old beat all bar Go Native in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, failing by just a neck to catch the Irish raider after a troubled passage.
Go Native is now one of the joint-favourites for the senior crown and Medermit a 10-1 chance, despite having beaten the reigning champion Punjabi fair and square last time out.
Those considerations alone were enough to put a warrior's glint in King's eyes as he mustered his Festival troops — more than 20 of them at this stage — in the shadow of the snowcrusted Iron Age hill fort that gives his Barbury Castle Stable its name.
Add to that his own knowledge of the gelding's wellbeing and his enthusiasm was understandable.
Medermit's chasing career was put on hold for his chance of atonement on the biggest stage over the smaller obstacles.
“I thought he was more than a little bit unlucky last year,” said King, “he was, after all, hampered at the last and came up the hill best of all.
“I'm actually quite surprised, though, with the way he's progressed this season.
“After he ran third at Cheltenham on his first run back, we thought we'd give him one more run over hurdles, and he ran very well at Cheltenham again, so we thought we'd have a crack at the Champion.
“He hasn't raced since he beat Punjabi in January but it was always the plan to go back to Cheltenham fresh. He's in wonderful form and he'll do a strong piece of work later this week.”
Lanarkshire-born King, 43, has trained 11 Festival winners but had to wait until the final contest for last year's sole success, courtesy of Oh Crick. Before that, the season's most competitive four days had yielded four seconds and three thirds.
“You can always cope if the horses are running well, and as well as they can,” he said, “but the one niggle of the meeting was Medermit.”