The Cheltenham Festival build-up: horses to watch from trainer Alan King's Barbury Castle yard
during the Cheltenham Festival. The local trainer to watch is Barbury Castle's Alan King who over the years has had fifteen winners at the Festival - some of his most important achievements out of a total to date of 1,321 national hunt winners - and counting.Everyone with the remotest interest in jumps racing will have an eye on runners
At the top of the downs on Monday morning (February 26) the ground was frozen solid - and had been, King told me, for several days: "What a good thing we've got all weather gallops for weather like this!"
Up the all-weather came the first group of the nine a.m. lot - lead by Sceau Royal. All the riders were well scarfed-up and some were gloved against the cold - though Alan King was amazed to see that some were riding without gloves.
Sceau Royal, owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, has won three out of his four races this season. The most recent, on January 27, was a Grade 2 two mile hurdle on soft ground at Doncaster.
Last year at Cheltenham he came a good sixth in the Champion Hurdle. In a fortnight's time he is going for the Festival's Grade 1 Arkle Chase on the first day of the Festival - won in 2017 by Altior. It is a race King has so far won twice.
Vying for headline attention are three of King's horses bound for the Festival: Yanworth, Redicean and Elgin.
Yanworth will be back over hurdles in the SunBets Stayers Hurdle on the Thursdayof the Festival. There he will probably be up against another local star - Lil Rockerfeller, who is trained just across the downs by Neil King.
The six year-old gelding Elgin - owned by the Elite Racing Club - scored a great victory in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton (February 17) and it is King's intention to supplement him - that is enter him late - for the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Supplementing him will cost £20,000 and the final decision has to be made next Wednesday (March 7). King wrote in the Racing Post: "I'm not saying he'll win the Champion but he could be competitive."
Back in November Wayne Hutchinson took Elgin to win the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham - ahead of Misterton by a neck. He has progressed a great deal since he was seventh in a field of fourteen in the 2017 running of the Festival's Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
This year he thinks Redicean is could well give him his third victory in the race.Like the Arkle, King has also won the Festival's Triumph Hurdle twice before.
Redicean has only been at Barbury Castle since just before Christmas - coming from flat trainer David O'Meara to go hurdling in the colours of the Apple Tree Stud.
Four year-old Redicean - with stable jockey Wayne Hutchinson aboard - won the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton last Saturday with a superb show of jumping and speed to give him three wins out of his first three runs over hurdles since - and all of them at Kempton. King's verdict? "His jumping was very accurate."
His Adonis win has shaken up the betting for the Triumph - though Nicky Henderson trained Apple's Shakira may still start favourite.
In the build-up to Cheltenham all sorts of ifs and buts come into play. We heard on Monday that Ryanair Chase would lose the fancied Fox Norton - out with a leg injury. And favoured Willoughby Court looks doubtful for the JLT Novice Chase.
Alan King has 130 horses in training - Flat and Jumps - and made 43 entries involving 27 horses. So what of the other entries?
There will be a great deal of local interest in the eleven year-old Valdez. Remebered for a hat trick of wins under Choc Thornton in the winter of 2013, he had not raced since his fall at Chepstow in October 2014 until this year's Newbury's Betfair Super Saturday (February 10.).
That day, with an amazing 1,204-day lay-off beside his name, he went against two other headline-making runners - Altior and Politologue - in Newbury's two mile Betfair Exchange Steeple Chase. He came home third, but ran well and held second place for much of the race.
He will now go in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase - the last race of the Festival. It is a race King won in 2009 with Oh Crick ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.
Other horses that may well be travelling from King's Barbury Castle yard to Cheltenham next month include:
Talkischeap - will go in the three mile Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle: "He's much better on good ground."
Bastien is entered for in the Coral Cup or the Martin Pipe: "But he is not guaranteed to get a race."
Last Saturday he came second at Kempton in his first race over hurdles: "I haven't ruled him out of the Supreme."Scarlet Dragon has only been at the Barbury Castle yard since November - following an extensive and pretty successful career on the flat.
The four year-old grey gelding Doctor Bartolo came to Alan King in October 2017. He came second in two races at the end of last year and then won a Juvenile Hurdle under Tom Bellamy at Warwick (February 23.)
He was twelve lengths ahead at the last and finished sixteen lengths in front of his stable mate Jaboticaba. He is most likely to go in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle. There he may be joined by City Dreamer - but there is a ground question there: "He is much better on good ground."
Coeur de Lion who won on the flat at Southwell earlier this month with Hollie Doyle aboard, may go in the Coral Cup: "I just hope he's not too high in the handicap."
The eight year-old mare Mia's Storm has a strong record winning six of her twelve races under rules. She was unbeaten over fences in 2017 - but then fell at Kempton on Boxing Day in the 32Red Kauto Star Novices' Chase: "She needs good ground. If it's soft she won't run."
Among Alan King's other entries Ballywood, Jaboticaba and The Unit will not run during the Cheltenham Festival. And beside all the Cheltenham preparations and decisions, there's still the day job to do - weather permitting: