It is less than three weeks since King took over from David Nicholson as the master of Jackdaws Castle stables. Already he has won more than pounds 100,000 in prize money, and on Saturday he sent out four winners and three seconds from eight runners.
Even that, though, would pale beside a victory in the King George VI Chase at Kempton next Monday, which would surely represent the quickest ascent from first licence to first championship-race winner in the history of the game.
King has two of the 12 remaining entries after yesterday's penultimate declaration stage for the most important race of the first half of the season. Mulligan, though, will run only if the ground is not too soft, and his principal hopes will rest instead on the solid, if somewhat underrated, shoulders of Go Ballistic, who was just a length adrift of See More Business in the Gold Cup back in March.
That length is worth nine points in the betting according to some bookmakers, who rate See More Business the favourite for the King George at around 7-4, and have Go Ballistic as far out as 10-1. Given the way King's horses are running at present, however, that could prove to be the best each- way value in the race.
He ran a good trial, too, when second under top weight in the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow earlier this month, his only run of the season. ``He was giving away about 20lb at Chepstow, so we were delighted with him,'' King said yesterday, ``and everything has gone very smoothly since. He is a definite runner, all things being equal, and Richard Johnson will ride. We don't want heavy ground, but he would go on just about anything else. The better the ground the better for him, really, but he would handle soft.''
Go Ballistic has won eight of his 44 races to date, which is a healthy proportion. He has finished second just as frequently, though, which is why his merits are sometimes overlooked. ``He's achieved a lot more than a lot of horses do,'' King said, ``and he's given us some good moments, but he hasn't won a lot. But then, he's always taking on the best, and these are hard races to win.''
According to the betting, See More Business and Looks Like Trouble are the horses most likely to frustrate Go Ballistic as he tries to cure himself of seconditis. Both were said to be fit, well and ready for their Christmas assignment yesterday, although the state of the ground remains a minor imponderable.
``See More Business will definitely run unless it is a bog,'' Paul Nicholls, his trainer, said yesterday, ``and I won't walk the course until an hour before the race. Double Thriller [his second entry] goes on any ground. Both horses are well, nothing has changed since the weekend. They both cantered out as usual this morning.''
Noel Chance, who trains Looks Like Trouble, also has a back-up runner in the shape of Boardroom Shuffle. ``Their preparation has been excellent,'' Chance said yesterday. ``They are both in good shape. Norman [Williamson] will be on Looks Like Trouble, and Leighton Aspell will ride Boardroom Shuffe.''
Two overseas runners remain in the race: Dorans Pride, trained in Ireland by Michael Hourigan, and Djeddah, whose trainer, Francois Doumen, is a familiar face at Kempton's Christmas meeting. Doumen has won four of the last 12 runnings of the King George, and while Djeddah was available at up to 40-1 yesterday morning, some punters will have a little on him just in case he makes the line-up on Monday.
A win for the flying new man seems more feasible, though, and it is reassuring to hear that despite his rapid and successful start, Alan King will not approach the King George with an old hand's sang-froid. ``I get butterflies with a lot of them,'' he said yesterday, ``especially if I think they've got a chance. He's third or fourth in the betting, so going to a big race like that, you've got to be excited and nervous.''
NB: A Day On The Dub
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