King’s Smad for it

Smad Place, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson, goes on to win the Holloway's Hurdle at Ascot
Smad Place, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson, goes on to win the Holloway's Hurdle at Ascot
The start of racing on Washout Wednesday / Picture by Malcolm Wells

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Alan King is gunning to reclaim his National Spirit Hurdle crown.

The leading jumps trainer reigned supreme in 2010 as Trenchant defeated Souffleur in the Grade 2 Fontwell feature.

He sent the son of Medicean back to West Sussex to defend his title last term, only for Celestial Halo to spoil the party.

With Trenchant switching to Bob Buckler’s Dorset yard and starting a career over fences, he is unlikely to take on the reigning champion again on Sunday, February 26.

However, King’s recent Holloway’s Hurdle winner Smad Place is ready to step up to the plate and take up the challenge.

The five-year-old grey gelding has an entry in the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival – where he may lock horns with the prolific staying hurdler Big Buck’s.

However, another of owner Andy Stewart’s charges is first on the agenda.

And King reckons – after a frustrating start to his career – the son of Smadoun deserves the chance to take on former Triumph Hurdle winner Celestial Halo.

‘Smad Place had no end of problems last season,’ said the Wiltshire handler.

‘He then had a very good summer but ended up throwing a splint in the autumn and I just couldn’t get him sound.

‘So it has been a frustrating time for him but the win at Ascot shows what a good crop last year’s juveniles were.’

Smad Place finished 10th in a red-hot Triumph Hurdle at the Festival last season.

The annual contest for the leading juveniles in the game was won by Zarkandar and included the likes of Unaccompanied, Grandouet and Brampour.

Zarkandar – a 7/1-chance for this season’s Champion Hurdle – is set to return to action in next month’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

Nicky Henderson’s Grandouet is another destined for the Champion Hurdle after two high-profile wins on his way to his career-best handicap mark of 166.

Meanwhile, Greatwood champion Brampour was just a neck in front of Smad Place in the Triumph and has since risen to a mark of 159.

So while King has shown his cards early, the form suggests he has a powerful hand in the race for National Spirit Hurdle glory.

‘He is a gorgeous horse and he will make a lovely novice chaser next season,’ said King.

‘I might be mad but I put him in the World Hurdle the other day.

‘The trip would not be a problem but Big Buck’s just might.

‘We will probably make a decision after he has run in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell.’