Alan King admits his jockey Robert Thornton faces a difficult choice in whether to ride Grumeti or Balder Succes in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
The four-year-old championship, a race in which King has won twice, as well as supplying other placed horses, looks one of the Barbury Castle trainer’s most obvious opportunity for Cheltenham Festival glory as he is responsible for two of the market leaders.
Last weekend’s Dovecote winner Grumeti is at the top of the betting, with one fall the only blot in an almost perfect record over timber, but the less-heralded Balder Succes is three out of three in impressive fashion.
Although Thornton has ridden both horses since his return from injury as King’s number one jockey, King has the best possible back-up in Wayne Hutchinson, who also partnered the pair to victory in Thornton’s absence.
“It’s going to be a difficult call and I don’t think there’s much between them,” said King.
“They’ll both go on good ground, and although Balder Succes has done his best work on soft ground, I think he’ll handle better ground.
“Choc (Thornton) and Wayne have ridden them both and we don’t have to be in a rush to make it.
“I’m very relaxed about it and the owners don’t mind.”
Of Grumeti, he added: “I was thrilled with him at Kempton, when he won very cosily, and he came out of the race in great form.
“He’ll go on any ground and he has plenty of toe.
“Balder Succes is a different type of horse – he’s a proper National Hunt horse in that he never ran on the Flat.
“He’s a good-actioned horse and I see no reason why he won’t go on better ground.
“I’m in a very lucky position to have two very good four-year-olds. I have trained plenty over the years and they would be up there with the best of them.”
King’s stable in bleakest Wiltshire also houses Vendor, the favourite for the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
The grey was experienced in France but has been preserved to keep a lenient mark after staying on well on his British debut at Newbury on New Year’s Eve.
“I think Vendor is as good as they (Grumeti and Balder Succes) are,” said King, before revealing the four-year-old would have been his best bet of the meeting if the price had not become too short.
“I am almost sure he would not have come off the bridle at Newbury if he hadn’t missed the last flight and I couldn’t believe the handicapper came up with a mark of 122.
“I’d have liked to have given him another run just for experience but you can’t show your hand to the handicapper.
“He went up 7lb standing in his stable but I’d be very disappointed if he is not a whole lot better than that.”
King said Fire Fighter, who was a close second at Sandown recently, could join Vendor in the Fred Winter, where he will probably be fitted with blinkers.