King weathers the dark storm to find Licht at end of tunnel
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. But 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 19lb 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," the trainer said. "But he worked fine on Saturday, and looked in quite bright form this morning. 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 Solix or Salden Licht to shrug off 11st 12lb.
"But the form of Salden Licht's win at Exeter is backing up really well," King said. "The third [Hunterview] bolted up at Musselburgh yesterday, and there have already been a couple of other winners out of the race. He's gone up 10lb, which is not ideal, but we had to get some match practice into him somewhere.
"He was one we knew was under the weather last season – he had to miss the Festival and Aintree – but he did well on the Flat and he's a much better horse this season. He's in wonderful form."
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 but a disappointment 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. But he could just go and run a stormer. He's very hard to win with, but has lots of ability and a race like this could bring out the best in him."
As for Iolith, King acknowledges that he must improve. "One or two seem to think he's not very well handicapped, and they may have a fair point," he said. "But on what he shows at home, he might be. He was a Group horse on the Flat in Germany, after all."
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. "And we'd only just got Smad Place off antibiotics when he was beaten at Chepstow," King said. "We'd really nursed him there. I still think he's a very good horse." Even his Sunday horses, it would seem, have the wind back in their sails.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Overlady (3.25 Sedgefield)
Returns from a long absence but has won over course and distance, and proved rather better than this mark over fences. Stable continues to flourish.
Deejan (4.45 Southwell)
Showed up well on first visit here last week and can reverse form with the runner-up, having tired only late after a three-month absence.
One to watch
Direct Flo's (Kim Bailey) midfield finish at Wincanton last week hinted that she might prosper over longer trips.
Where the money's going
Solix is again in demand for the Totesport Trophy at Newbury on Saturday, now 6-1 from 7-1 with the sponsors.
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