Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Crystal Can Go to the Ball; Cheltenham Preview: Hurdler to Sign off Fine Year for King

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Crystal Can Go to the Ball; Cheltenham Preview: Hurdler to Sign off Fine Year for King

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAHAM CUNNINGHAM

BY 31 December there are plenty of racehorse trainers who can hardly wait to get rid of the old year and start afresh in the new one.

Not so Alan King, who has been in sparkling form over the last few months and can end 2003 with a bang when Crystal d'Ainay (nap) lines up for the Unicoin Homes Spa Hurdle at Cheltenham tomorrow.

King is seldom guilty of hyping his horses, but he thinks the world of this precocious ex-French gelding.

And no wonder. Crystal d'Ainay improved relentlessly during his juvenile campaign, signing off with a fine second in a Grade 2 contest at Aintree, and his progress shows no sign of stopping.

An excellent second behind his stablemate Mughas in a hot handicap back at Liverpool first time out this season provided a fine start to his campaign.

And at Cheltenham last time Crystal d'Ainay took another sizeable step forward by getting the better of a thrilling battle with Sh Boom in the Relkeel Hurdle.

Sh Boom represents a live danger again with a 4lb pull for the length he was beaten at Cheltenham, while the veteran Deano's Beeno has never been at his very best on this track but could still be dangerous if connections revert to forcing tactics.

However, the improver on show here is clearly Crystal d'Ainay. He looks to be thriving at present and, with the King horses continuing in top form, everything looks in place for a very bold effort indeed.

Martin Pipe knows full well that he has to raise his game in 2004 in order to withstand a fierce challenge for the trainers' title from his arch rival Paul Nicholls. Pipe comes mob handed with five runners for the Tote Exacta RHT Winter Series Final, but Nicholls could have the edge again via the inform pair of Sud Bleu and Perouse.

Splitting the pair is far from easy. It could be significant that Ruby Walsh rides Perouse, who is on a four-timer following an easy course win, but Sud Bleu (nb) has looked a reformed character since being treated for a breathing problem over the summer. …

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