King looks for silver lining as clouds lift
It wouldn't be long before another squall came blasting through the hunched grey hills, but Alan King could comfort himself that the low, roiling clouds would soon be chased away.
There were times, last season, when his horses seemed to be escorted everywhere by their own, private cumulonimbus.
Yesterday, however, he could stand on an outcrop of the Wiltshire Downs and watch them bounding towards him with a common glow of vitality.
Characteristically, it was King himself who drew attention to the fact that Medermit's success at Sandown last weekend was his stable's first at Grade One level in over two years.
In such a relentless achiever, that was a startling measure of the travails he endured last season. It was also a reminder that nobody can set King higher standards than he does himself. “It's bloody nice to have Saturday horses again,” he said, with emphasis.
As if to prove his point, the first four to emerge panting from the hollow five furlongs below are all being aimed at the Totesport Trophy at Newbury on Saturday.
Indeed, the first pair up the gallop are disputing favouritism with Solix, a French import who will be making his first start for Nicky Henderson. King, while enthusiastic about Salden Licht, warned that Walkon is not certain to run.
The grey was making his first appearance in 21 months when failing by just half a length to give 19lbs to the winner in a handicap at Ascot 17 days ago and King is concerned that Walkon could recoil from that effort.
“In an ideal world I'd like another week, but he worked fine on Saturday, and looked in quite bright form this morning,” he said.
“I just want to see him squealing and full of himself again. We won't know until he works on Wednesday and we'll see what Vinny Conte says then. He rides him all the time, and knows him inside out.”
Conte's wife, incidentally, works for Henderson — and the horses in her care include Zaynar, who beat Walkon into second in the 2009 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. Walkon then proceeded to win the
Grade One juvenile at Aintree by 13 lengths. Such is the calibre of horse that typically contests this valuable and historic handicap, and it will take a particularly smart effort for either Soldix or Salden Licht to shrug off 11st 12lbs.
“The form of Salden Licht's win at Exeter is backing up really well,” said King said.
“The third bolted up at Musselburgh yesterday and there have already been a couple of other winners out of the race.”
King's other candidates are Iolith, who steps out of novice company after wins at Kempton and Taunton, and The Betchworth Kid, useful on the Flat a disappointing at Kempton last month.
“He's an enigma,” King shrugged.
“He frightened the life out of himself at Kempton, when he all but came down at the third, and never jumped a twig after that.
“He's hard to win with, but has lots of ability and a race like this could bring out the best in him.”
King's entries for Exeter the next day include Smad Place and Bensalem.
The owners of the latter are keen to return to fences at the Festival, after his encouraging comeback over timber 10 days ago — and he certainly has unfinished business in one of the handicaps there, having fallen two out when going well last year.