Alan King takes strong field of novices to Cheltenham

Alan King heads into the Cheltenham Festival with the richest pool of novices for several seasons, headed by Montbazon and Invictus.

Although the trainer had a victory at the meeting last year with Bensalem in the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase, ending his barren run in 2010, he has strength in depth across the board this time.

Montbazon will start things off in the first race, the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, having won at Plumpton before lowering the colours of the highly-rated Vulcanite at Newbury last month.

“He’s learning all the time and the more experience he has had, the better,” King said.

“I’d be quite happy to run him on decent ground.”

King showed off over nearly 20 Cheltenham prospects at his Wiltshire stables this morning, and recent Reynoldstown Chase winner Invictus could be joined in the RSA Chase by Walkon, a top hurdler who has met with defeat in his two latest starts at Newbury.

“It looks like both will go for the RSA,” he said.

“One or two people think Bobs Worth will turn the tables on Ascot form with Invictus but I don’t think he will. He’s an exciting prospect.

“Walkon has been beaten twice at Newbury but looks to be crying out for a step up in trip.”

Smad Place, who has produced thoroughly respectable efforts in handicaps this term, has reached such a lofty rating he is likely to contest the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.

Bless The Wings is more likely to head for the Pulteney Land Investments Novices’ Handicap Chase than the Byrne Group Plate with Secret Edge’s probable event being the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.

That is “almost certainly” the target for Batonnier, an impressive winner in a Grade Two on Festival Trials Day.

King said: “He has got to improve again but he has shown no sign at home of going backwards.”

Iron Chancellor goes for the National Hunt Chase and Grand National prospect Hold On Julio, winner of both his starts for the stable, another heading for the JLT Specialty Handicap Chase.

“He coughed when he was due to run at Doncaster but he worked well yesterday and we’ll think about Aintree after Cheltenham,” King said.

Robbie Henderson will be booked for Midnight Appeal in the Kim Muir, Torphichen is to tackle Sandown’s Imperial Cup before a decision on Cheltenham is made, while Sir Harry Ormesher and Valdez will also be in action this week before being committed to the Festival.

Kumbeshwar goes for the Grand Annual and King says it is again “almost certain” Lovcen will run in the Albert Bartlett rather than the Martin Pipe conditional jockeys’ race.

Raya Star, a stellar performer for the yard with a victory in the Ladbroke at Ascot who followed up with third in the Betfair Hurdle, takes the plunge in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle.

King said: “He keeps creeping up in the weights and might not be handicapped to win a County any more but I’d like to think he’d be in there with a shout.”