King keen on med claims
Alan King remains bullish about the prospect of Medermit giving him a third success in the Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham on Tuesday.
The Barbury Castle handler saddled Voy Por Ustedes (2006) and My Way De Solzen (2007) to win successive renewals of the Grade One contest and three-time chase winner Medermit heads the betting for this year's renewal.
It was difficult to envisage him winning at the Festival after he refused at Huntingdon earlier in the campaign, but his recent defeat of the reopposing Captain Chris at Sandown marks him down as the one to beat.
"Everyone knows that I rate Medermit our best chance of the week," said King.
"I thought he was an Arkle horse from day one, and he has done nothing but progress this season.
"You could not fail to be impressed by how well he coped with the tricky Sandown fences in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase last time and what I really liked is how he killed off the opposition with that burst of speed from three out to the second last.
"He then idled up the hill, but I don't mind that, and I was really pleased with his final schooling session on Thursday.
"We have been lucky enough to have won the Arkle twice and I have learned that to win the race you need to travel, jump at championship speed and stay well, and Medermit ticks all those boxes.
"There are no good things at the Festival, but I really do feel that he has a serious chance."
Paul Nicholls last won the Arkle with the brilliant Azertyuiop in 2003 and this year's representative is Ghizao.
The seven-year-old has won his last two starts in good style and the champion trainer is hopeful he will give another good account.
"He was struggling with his breathing last year and had an operation during the summer and has done nothing but improve since," said Nicholls.
"He's very fresh and very well and loves Cheltenham. Ground just on the easy side of good would be perfect for him.
"I think Medermit is the one we've all got to fear. He's the highest-rated hurdler and ran very well at Sandown last time. You have to stay two and a half to win the race."
Part-owner Andy Stewart is confident his charge will be ridden positively by Timmy Murphy.
"He's absolutely tip-top and after he won at Newbury in the fog, we intentionally gave him a lay-off. Timmy came down and schooled him on Wednesday and he's spot on," said Stewart.
"Alan King's horse is the one to beat - I don't think Finian's Rainbow jumps well enough. We won't be messing around and we'll be up near the front."
Finian's Rainbow has only beaten a handful of horses in his three victories over fences but his trainer Nicky Henderson expects a bold show.
"He's a big bull of a horse, a genuine two-miler and I'm very upbeat," said the Seven Barrows handler.
"It was Barry Geraghty's idea to get Andrew (Tinkler) to help him learn to jump in-behind horses at Warwick, as before that we'd been going around on our own.
"But there was no pace and it was just interfering with his natural ability and rhythm. Some can say he wasn't impressive and that's fine, as we were just trying something. We'll just let him gallop and roll."
Henderson is also represented by Giorgio Quercus, and added: "Giorgio Quercus shouldn't be a bigger price than Dan Breen as there was nothing between us at Sandown. He wants genuinely good ground and is now rated 148, which isn't far off the best."
The Philip Hobbs-trained Captain Chris needs to turn around form with both Medermit and Ghizao, but arrives in winning form having secured a confidence boosting success at Kempton last month.
Big-race jockey Richard Johnson said: "Hopefully he's a horse that's still improving and it was nice for him to win at Kempton the other day.
"He has to improve to win an Arkle, but we think he's still going the right way.
"He's won over two miles and two and a half so hopefully he'll be staying up the hill strongly."
The sole Irish challenger is Noel Meade's Irish Arkle scorer Realt Dubh.
Although he has been competing in much more testing conditions in his homeland, Meade does not expect the better surface to prove a problem.
"He's travelled over great and seems in great form. I couldn't be happier with him," said Meade.
"I've walked the track today and it's beautiful ground at the moment. I suppose it will be drying up all the time but I don't think it will be a factor with him. He'll love it.
"I suppose Medermit and Nicky Henderson's horse (Finian's Rainbow) might be the horses to beat, but I'm happy with my fellow and we'll see how we get on."