TRAINER Alan King could have runners for the first time since New Year’s Day this week after the latest batch of tests on his horses came back with improved results.
King shut down his yard following Kumbeshwar’s run at Cheltenham in a bid to arrest an alarming slump in form, which saw the top trainer producing a win strike-rate of just seven per cent in December, compared to 18 per cent on November and 24 per cent the previous month.
Writing in his column for the Racing Post Weekender, King, who was making no guarantees about when he will have his next runner, issued an upbeat update on his string.
“I’m pleased to report that last week’s test results brought some good news,” he said. “The results did not come back 100 per cent so we still have a little way to go, but there was a marked improvement and we have definitely taken a step in the right direction.
“Things will be quite slow to start with and I have only made a handful of entries this week. But with a bit of luck we should be back and fully functional soon.”
Stable stars Walkon, Kumbeshwar, Valdez and Raya Star are among the King team to hold entries for Saturday, while Secret Edge, entered at Huntingdon on Friday, could be his first runner back following the enforced break.
Meanwhile Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson’s Long Run could tackle the £100,000 Kempton Park Chase at the Sunbury track on February 22 as a step towards a crack at the Crabbie’s Grand National.
Owner Robert Waley-Cohen is keen to go for the world’s greatest steeplechase at Aintree in April with his 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero.
Long Run has failed to trouble the judge in three starts this term and unseated his amateur rider, Waley-Cohen’s son Sam, at the final fence when in fifth place and out of contention in the King George VI Chase at Kempton - a race he has won twice.
The feeling is Long Run is not as good as he was and while another tilt at the blue riband has not been totally ruled out, connections of the Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old are now looking down the handicap route.
“I have to say this year hasn’t gone at all according to plan and he’s not been in the prize money for any of his three runs,” Waley-Cohen told At The Races.
“Had he not tired and made those two mistakes, he would probably have been third or fourth, or thereabouts (in the King George), but that’s not quite the same as last year when he won it after that great battle with Captain Chris.
“Maybe the handicapper has got it right and he’s on the down grade and he should be marked down a lot.
“He hasn’t had a massive number of races. He has had five years at the very top and there aren’t many that go for more than that whatever age they start.
“I’m an eternal optimist and work on the assumption that he’s still got it there and he’ll come back to top form.
“His next race is pencilled in for February 22 at Kempton, a three-mile handicap chase, a £100,000 race.
“I think we will learn a terrific amount from what happens on that day. If he struggles off 163 round there, there’s absolutely no point in going for the Gold Cup, but if he absolutely loves it and wins by a country mile then you’ll have to put the Gold Cup back on the agenda, but we’d be slightly surprised if he achieves that.
“I think the Grand National is the more obvious course to be going at the moment.
“I think we will just go back to cheekpieces. They seem to work pretty well on him, so that is probably what we will do.
“I think it’s quite exciting and Sam’s record round Liverpool is extraordinary.”