King’s Royal aims to join Elite
View from connections ahead of the Stan James Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday.
Sceau Royal (r) bids to back up his Cheltenham win
Sceau Royal will bid to tick another box off trainer Alan King's CV by giving him a first success in the Stan James Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday.
Although the Barbury Castle Stables handler has won many of National Hunt racing's biggest prizes, the Grade Two limited handicap has so far escaped his clutches.
Having failed to feature in Grade One events at Cheltenham and Aintree last term after rattling up a hat-trick of wins the four-year-old returned to action last month with a decisive victory at Prestbury Park.
King said: "He is 149 so we were still keen to go down the handicap route at the moment as opposed to a Champion Hurdle trial and this looked the right place to go.
"I was not surprised that he won at Cheltenham, but I didn't expect him to win quite as well as he did that day. He is a horse that has got plenty of speed. The overnight rain has encouraged us to run."
Paul Nicholls chances of claiming an eighth victory in the race rest with the lightly-raced Zubayr.
After winning a Grade Two on his British debut at Kempton in February, the four-year-old then finished down the field in the Triumph Hurdle before picking up a novice event at Wincanton.
Having finished a close third in Grade Three at Auteuil on most recent start in May, connections are optimistic he can go close on his first start in Britain since April.
Assistant trainer Harry Derham said: "He was a really smart juvenile last year, although he didn't have much of a season he showed how good he was.
"He had a racecourse gallop at Chepstow the other day and Paul has aimed him at this race.
"He is a smart horse and it will be interesting to see how he goes against Sceau Royal, who was impressive at Cheltenham.
"This is a good starting point and it will tell us if he is graded horse or a really good handicapper. I suspect he will be a graded horse, but whether that is over two or two and a half miles, I don't know.
"He has been great in training and is in good nick."
The Dan Skelton-trained North Hill Harvey will attempt to build on a solid novice campaign which culminated with a fourth-place finish in a Grade One at Aintree as he steps into open company for the first time in his career.
Rider Harry Skelton said: "It is first run of the season, but he is a pretty easy horse to get fit as he is not a big, heavy horse.
"He is doing well at home, but he is not a flashy work horse. We are happy with him, though, and he did well as a novice last season.
"He is a little bit older now and is stronger and he will go chasing at some point. We tried him over two and a half twice last year and he didn't quite see it out, so maybe he is just a two-miler, but as he is that bit older he might get further now."
Rayvin Black has fond memories of the Somerset track having struck at the same level on his most recent visit to the course in February.
Although the seven-year-old, who finished fourth on his return at Kempton last month, is more exposed than a number of his rivals trainer Oliver Sherwood expects him to run his usual race.
Sherwood said: "It is a case of where we can go with him, but hopefully he can pick up some prize-money.
"He has won there before and although I would like the ground to be much softer, he handles good ground. He is in great order.
"He was not badly in need of the run at Kempton, but he will be sharper for it. The weights were totally against him that day.
"The handicapper has dropped us a few pounds which has helped. If the ground was very soft I would be very keen on his chances."
The field is completed by 2013 winner Melodic Rendezvous from the yard of Jeremy Scott, the James Ewart-trained Aristo Du Plessis and Peckhamecho who is the representative of Sophie Leech.
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