Trainer Alan King admits it would be “right up there” among his very best victories if Edwardstone can end his seven-year wait for another winner at The Festival™ by striking gold in the Grade One Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase on day one (Tuesday 15th March) of the four-day spectacular at Cheltenham next month.
The Barbury Castle Stables handler has failed to taste success at the prestigious four day meeting since Uxizandre provided now retired 20-times champion Jump jockey Sir A P McCoy with what was to be his final Festival winner in the 2015 Ryanair Chase.
Although his team numerically will be much smaller than in previous years, King possesses one of the leading chances of a British trained winner at the meeting in Edwardstone, who is a general 2-1 chance to claim the two-mile prize.
Since being brought down on his return to chasing at Warwick in November, the Kayf Tara gelding has gone on to rattle up four successive wins over fences to establish himself among the best of his generation.
After securing Grade One glory in the Close Brothers Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park in November, Edwardstone has followed that victory up with a brace of Grade Two wins in the Ladbrokes Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park and in the Virgin Bet Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.
King said: “Edwardstone has done everything right really. He is a horse that has been a long time in the making. We’ve always thought the world of him.
“Surprisingly, he didn’t win his bumper but if you look back on his Warwick form my goodness we didn’t have bump into some horses there. Over hurdles he was always a little bit keen and he did a bit too much. I think running him in those top handicap hurdles last was probably the making of him.
“He was placed in the Betfair Hurdle, was fifth in a County Hurdle and was placed at Aintree. I think it just made a man of him.
“He is now relaxing much better which is probably a combination of what those races and a fence have done. I think we are now seeing him fulfil the potential we always thought he had.
“I was a bit nervous going into Sandown as it was his third fairly quick run but there was nothing else for him so we decided to roll the dice.
“He came out of the Warwick race in good order and Sandown was very pleasing. The time was very good compared to the Tingle Creek.
“We thought we might wait until the Kingmaker but he came out of it really well so we slotted in Kempton at Christmas, which I’m glad we did.
“He then had a proper break and we thought Warwick timing wise was perfect between now and Cheltenham.
“Edwardstone winning the Arkle would be right up there as it would get me off that cold list at The Festival.”
Despite King being excited about the prospects of Edwardstone giving him a 16th winner at The Festival, he admits the nerves in the build up to the race remain exactly the same.
King continued: “I’m fine at the moment but I’m sure as it gets closer the nerves will really kick in. That is what you do the job for.
“We have just got to get him there now though we don’t have to do a lot with him. He has still got to go through the routine.
“He has got two or three good bits of work to do and he will have to have a school the week before so we have to get through that.
“All you need is an over reach or bruised foot and you are up against it. You can’t treat it any differently. Hopefully, we get a clean run.
“The staff are excited about it as it gives them a great lift as well so hopefully he is lucky.”
King knows what is required to win the Sporting Life Arkle Novices’ Chase, having claimed it with Voy Por Ustedes in 2006 and My Way De Solzen in 2007, but he believes his latest contender is a different model of horse to his previous two winners of the Grade One contest.
He added: “Voy Por Ustedes and My Way De Solzen were different types to Edwardstone.
“Voy Por Ustedes on ability wasn’t the greatest I’ve ever had but he was incredibly tough and he loved a battle. He won an Arkle and a Queen Mother through guts opposed to sheer ability.
“My Way De Solzen was probably a more talented horse but a little bit more fragile mentally.
“We’ve had Edwardstone from the beginning and brought him through the bumper route and crept along quietly whereas the other two, while they hadn’t run much, had already run before coming to us.
“What you do want in the Arkle is a horse that gets the trip and we know he does exactly that.
“He is a big fine horse and he is actually bred to be a three-miler to be honest with you.
“As soon as we started to do some proper work with him we thought this has got some speed. He has since backed that up by his performances on the track.
“We ran him over two and a half at Aintree last season but at the moment two miles is fine and I’ve always thought you need stamina to win an Arkle and he has got that but he has got tactical pace as well.”
Although Edwardstone, who unseated his rider on his sole chasing start last season, is yet to tackle the Cheltenham fences King is confident his rising stable star will have no problem coping with their demands.
King continued: “There is no reason to think why he wouldn’t handle the chase track at Cheltenham and Voy Por Ustedes had never gone around there before winning the Arkle.
“He has been around Sandown and Warwick is a great test and if you go well around there you go well around most places.
“He has run well around Cheltenham in a Country Hurdle and a Greatwood Hurdle. We probably couldn’t ride him at his best those days as we had to drop him right out to get him to settle so he had a lot of ground to make up.
“Now you can ride him just behind the pace so I’ve no reason to think why he wouldn’t handle going over fences at Cheltenham.”
Not only would victory for Edwardstone be a welcome success at a meeting that has served King well in the past but he feels it would be made all the more special giving who is owned by.
King said: “We are very fortunate to have him and it is very exciting for the owners Robert Abrey and Ian Thurtle as well as they bred him.
“Midnightreferendum was the first horse I trained for them. Then Edwardstone came along and now I’ve got his sister as well. They are just a delight to train for and I don’t mean it while they are just winning.
“Even at Warwick when he was brought down first time this year, all that mattered was that the horse and jockey were okay as they knew there would be another day.
“I enjoy training for them and hopefully when you enjoy training for someone you do a better job. They are great people.”
Although Edwardstone is very much the flagbearer for King at this year’s Festival he hopes The Glancing Queen can make a return to winning ways on what will be her fourth appearance the meeting.
The eight year old Jeremy mare finished fifth in last year’s Grade Two Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle having previously contested both the 2019 and 2020 Weatherbys Champion Bumper, in which she finished fifth and eighth respectively.
Having won two of her three starts over fences this season The Glancing Queen will look to add to that tally in either the Grade Two Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase (Friday 18th March) or the Grade Three Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase (Thursday 17th March). Both contests are staged over 2m 4f 127y.
King said: “It is not a massive entry for the Mares’ Chase but the quality is there and if the main ones come over from Ireland we are probably 10lbs to a stone shy of them.
“We will see what is left in but I’ve given ourselves the option of running her in the Plate off 141. That might be a more realistic chance of winning rather than going for the mares’ race. We’ve got her black type and the prize money is the same in both races.
“I thought she ran a terrific race behind L’Homme Presse at the track on New Year’s Day and the way he has come out and won the Scilly Isles was good. I’m quite happy to go to Cheltenham fresh as she has a good record running after a break.
“She has run in the Champion Bumper against the boys so she should be fine in a race like this. The Dipper looked the right race to have a crack at and she beat some very good horses. She was ready for a race then.
“She has been around the course so she ticks a lot of the boxes. Whatever race she runs in, I think she will run very well but I think if I’ve more chance of winning the Plate that is the route I will probably go.”
An outing in the Grade Two Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle appears to be on the agenda for Nina The Terrier opposed to a first appearance at Grade One level in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.
The trainer said: “She is in the two races but she will come back to two miles for the mares’ novices’ race. I’ve had fillies placed in that race before that she would be better than them.
“It was just unfortunate she fell at Newbury a few starts back but it was just one of those things and hopefully she has learnt from it.
“She was very fresh and I wanted to get a run into her. The Grade Two at Sandown last time was ideal, bar the ground but she still finished third.
“She jumped great and cantered in to it but she has then hit the softer ground turning in. It was all hands and heels between the last two and she has finished a comfortable third. She didn’t have a hard race and she has come out of it well.
“We will roll the dice and hope the ground is dry at The Festival as she is a much better mare on good ground.”
Tritonic has already secured one Grade Three success this season at Ascot before Christmas and the gelded son of Sea The Moon will attempt to secure another victory at the same level in the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (2m 179y, Friday 18th March).
It will be a second appearance at the meeting for the McNeil Family and Ian Dale-owned five year old who finished fifth in the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle in 2021.
King said: “There was talk he might go to Kelso for the Morebattle but I think that may come too soon so we will probably go to Cheltenham for the County Hurdle.
“One or two people think he doesn’t handle the track. I’m not sure I agree with that as he has finished fifth in a Greatwood and he learnt plenty from that.
“At Newbury in the Betfair Hurdle things went horribly wrong as he didn’t settle and his race was over jumping the first but he is fine. He could be interesting.
“We put him in the Champion Hurdle in case he bolted up at Newbury or something like that but it will be the County Hurdle for him.”
King has enjoyed notable juvenile success at the meeting in years gone by having landed the 2005 JCB Triumph Hurdle with Penzance before claiming the same Grade One prize in 2007 with Katchit, who went on to land the Champion Hurdle in 2008.
Forever William holds an entry in the Grade One prize (Friday 18th March, 2m 179y), but tilt at the Grade Three Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Tuesday 15th March, 2m 87y) appears more likely for the Sea The Moon gelding, who was third in the Grade Two JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at the track last time out on Festival Trials Day at the end of January.
King said: “He will probably go for the Boodles. He probably would want softer ground. He has been running well all season. He won at Newbury then was third in the Finale at Chepstow then he was a good third at Cheltenham behind Pied Piper.
“It looked as though he was going to be second but he just got run out of it but he still ran well.
“He is not a Triumph horse but definitely a Fred Winter type off his mark. He is a tough horse. He is very lazy so he might have some head gear as he wore some on the Flat.
“I think in a Boodes to get him to travel he might just want some head gear. If you don’t travel you are out the back before you know it so it might just make it easier for Tom (Cannon). I’ve got to school him in headgear first but it is an option.
“All in all we’ve not got the biggest team at the meeting but those that go will hopefully run well.”
Alan King’s 15 winners at The Festival:
2004 Fork Lightning Ultima Handicap Chase
2005 Penzance JCB Triumph Hurdle
2006 Voy Por Ustedes Sporting Life Arkle
2006 My Way De Solzen Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle
2007 My Way De Solzen Sporting Life Arkle
2007 Voy Por Ustedes Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
2007 Katchit JCB Triumph Hurdle
2008 Katchit Unibet Champion Hurdle
2008 Old Benny Sam Vestey National Hunt Chase
2008 Nenuphar Collonges Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
2009 Oh Chrick Johnny Henderson Grand Annual
2011 Bensalem Ultima Handicap Chase
2013 Medinas Coral Cup
2014 Midnight Prayer National Hunt Chase
2015 Uxizandre Ryanair Chase