There was a time when saddling a winner on the Flat was more of a sideshow attraction for trainer Alan King – but in recent seasons it has become an important part of his operation.
Having sent out 38 winners on the level last year, along with claiming almost £500,000 in prize-money, the Barbury Castle Stables handler is starting to develop into one of the leading dual-purpose trainers in the country.
With around 50 horses to go to war with this year, the Grade One-winning trainer hopes he can continue to raise the bar and make his presence felt.
He said: “It went well. It was our biggest team last year and we would have a similar number again this time. All the time we are just trying to up the quality.
“We had the best two-year-old we have ever had last year in Dunkerron, who was narrowly beaten in a Group Two at Goodwood, which was exciting.
“You want to match last season, then see where we go. We’ve had a reasonable start from the small team we have so far run.”
Having seen Dunkerron equip himself well at Pattern-race level last term, King hopes the son of Kuroshio can leave his final two outings behind and progress even further after earmarking a potential trip to Royal Ascot as a target.
Dunkerron was runner-up in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood
He said: “His trip is open to question at the moment, but I would have thought it would be seven furlongs to a mile.
“He could possibly be a Jersey Stakes horse. He has had a little hold up as he was coughing when he came back.
“He looks great, though. He has thickened out, but not grown a lot. I’ve not really got a starting point yet.”
While the best days are hoped to still be ahead for Dunkerron, the multiple Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer is confident the same can also be said for Who Dares Wins, not been sighted since finishing third in last year’s Chester Cup.
He said: “We’ve not seen the best of Who Dares Wins. He had a little injury after the Chester Cup, so we gave him the summer off. He is back in good form.
“I think he will run in the Queen’s Prize at Kempton, then go for the Chester Cup. He ran very well in it last year from a very wide draw.
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“He is a grand staying horse. I think he has improved and he is working well. For an older horse he seems to have come on again.”
Although Beringer proved to be no match for Auxerre in the Lincoln on his seasonal return, King is confident the four-year-old can use that effort as a good launch pad for the campaign.
King said: “He ran really well and nearly got brought down after a furlong. He wouldn’t have beaten the winner.
“He did a lot of his running over a mile and a quarter last year, but there was no issue going back to a mile. He will be sharper for that and Andrea (Atzeni) certainly thought there would be no issue sticking to a mile if the race was right.
“There is the Spring Cup at Newbury for him on Saturday, but that might be a bit quick – we will just have a look and see.”
Just In Time may have failed to see out two and a quarter miles in the Cesarewich on his final outing last season, but after winning three of his previous five starts last term, including the Mallard Handicap at Doncaster, King believes he could be an ideal type for the Ebor.
He added: “Just In Time has been late in again, he got pretty stumped up in the Cesarewitch. It hit him pretty hard, but he is a grand horse.
“He had a long hard season and again he probably didn’t quite see the trip out, but he knew he had been in a war.
“It will be much later on before he is ready, but we could look towards going for the Ebor later on in the season with him.”
Of those horses that have yet to show their hand King selected three in particular - Peckinpah, Aweedram and Truesha - who he feels will not be long in opening their accounts when the moment comes.
He said: “There is Peckinpah and a few others that are off marks that hopefully we can do a bit of damage with.
“Aweedram was third at Salisbury and on his last run he was too free at Nottingham, but we have gelded him. He would be one of the best ones.
“There is also a horse called Trueshan who only had one run last year, finishing fifth of six at Nottingham.
“We’ve done the groundwork and we will just see what they progress to. I’d like to think that a lot are capable of winning, but to what level, I’m not sure yet.”