Alan King’s Royal Ascot runner-up Tritonic now has the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in his sights after switching codes, explains Marcus Armytage
There is a great tradition of dual-purpose trainers in Britain and Ireland, but those operating at the highest levels under both codes are few and far between.
Peter Easterby, Jimmy FitzGerald, David Elsworth and Jessica Harrington are four that spring to mind but, with Harrington seemingly more focused on the Flat now, it is Alan King who has taken the mantle of top dual-purpose trainer of the current crop.
Alan has been building his Flat string up gradually. Unable to compete financially with the trainers whose owners source winning Irish pointers in the £400,000-plus bracket, it is fair to say that after saddling three winners at Royal Ascot last summer – and Trueshan winning the staying race on Champions Day – he now has better Flat horses than he does jumpers.
However, it is one of his Royal Ascot near-misses, Tritonic – runner-up to Highland Chief in the Golden Gates – who looks more than capable of returning King to the winners’ enclosure at the Cheltenham Festival following the horse’s dominant display in the Close Brothers Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday 27 February. King has been absent since Uxizandre’s 2015 Ryanair Chase win.
The chestnut gelding, by Sea The Moon, who cost £55,000 at the breeze-up sales as a two-year-old, won the Haynes, Hanson & Clark at two, was Listed class at three but, on the evidence of two starts since sent jumping, has taken to hurdling like the proverbial duck to water.
On Saturday, he cruised through the race, half asleep at times, jumped beautifully, could be put wherever Adrian Heskin wanted him and showed a good turn of foot from the last to increase his margin of victory over Casa Loupi from a length approaching the obstacle to 10 lengths at the line.
I know the Irish are mad about the unbeaten Zanahiya – the Aga Khan often breeds a Cheltenham Festival winner – but for my money, Tritonic is as good as any going for the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival, a race King has already won twice with Katchit and Penzance.
“He’s probably the most laid-back person at Kempton today,” said King, speaking about Max McNeill’s four-year-old. “At the end of the Flat season, we gelded him and gave him a proper holiday, six weeks in the field, so he was only just ready for Ascot. We were thinking of coming straight here, but I didn’t think that was right.
“He needed the experience and he’ll have learnt plenty round the inside there. He goes to sleep occasionally, but he comes alive again as soon as the jockey squeezes him. He’s much the best I’ve had off the Flat, so we’ve trained him a bit different to our previous Triumph Hurdle horses.
“We had Katchit [who also went on to win the Champion Hurdle] going in September because he didn’t have so much experience on the Flat, but Tritonic has had a lot of experience in big Flat handicaps.
“I was impressed how he came back on the bridle when Adrian wanted him to and with the way he went away from them after the last. He won’t come on fitness-wise for that, but he’ll be sharper for the experience.”
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King added: “He’s not slow. His best race on the Flat was arguably over a mile and a quarter but he’s got the gears to hold his position and he’s a strong stayer. He’s been a good jumper from day one.
“He was pretty good at Ascot [when he beat Casa Loupi a length]. He was a bit long and flat at the last that day, but we’ve given him a couple of schools since. I certainly wouldn’t swap him for anything.”
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