Walkon given December date
Alan King will bid for Cheltenham compensation with Walkon in the Grade Three Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup on Saturday, December 15.
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The seven-year-old was narrowly denied major honours at Cheltenham for the second time in his accomplished career when finishing three lengths behind impressive winner Al Ferof in this month's Paddy Power Gold Cup (and 12 lengths ahead of the third Nadiya De La Vega). He filled the same spot behind Zaynar in the 2009 Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle when beaten three quarters of a length.
King said: "Walkon came out of the Paddy Power Gold Cup well and the Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup is the plan.
"He didn't surpass my expectations at all in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. We were very pleased with him beforehand and we were expecting a big run and we got one.
"He has gone up 5lb which seems acceptable but I can't do much about that - it is a bit frustrating but you have to learn to live with it."
King has also entered lightly raced nine-year-old Bakbenscher, who returned from a 609-day absence to come home an eye-catching fifth in the Grade Three Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle at Chepstow in October.
King added: "Bakbenscher is unlikely to run and I have put him in there just in case. He will run this weekend over hurdles but I am still undecided where he will go at the moment."
The race is being sponsored by the Stewart family, headed by well-known racehorse owner Andy Stewart, who has enjoyed tremendous success with four-time Ladbrokes World Hurdle hero Big Buck's.
One of Andy's sons, Paul, suffered a severe spinal injury in a snowboarding accident in December, 2008, and was paralysed from the waist down. He was initially told by doctors that he would never walk again but he is embarking on a remarkable challenge next year when participating in an Ironman/Quadathalon-style event.
The Stewart Family is involved with four of the entries which include dual-winner Poquelin, who carried big weights to victory in 2009 and 2010, and classy performers Tataniano and Ghizao, all of whom are overseen by champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
Nicholls has enjoyed a wonderful start to the season and could also saddle smart French import Unioniste, owned by Al Ferof's owner John Hales, and Down Royal Grade Two scorer Cristal Bonus. Lightly-raced nine-year-old The Knoxs completes his sextet.
Hunt Ball, trained by Keiran Burke, was one of the stories of last season after improving a remarkable 88lb, but he couldn't continue that progress in the Paddy Power Gold Cup when pulling up.
The talented course winner Hell's Bay could have his first start for Burke after leaving Colin Tizzard, while Nicky Henderson could be represented by last season's winner Quantitativeeasing, Nadiya De La Vega and impressive Ascot victor Roberto Goldback.
Trainer David Pipe has also started the season in excellent form, saddling four winners at Cheltenham's Open meeting, and his sole entry is Notus De La Tour, who enjoyed a fine first season over fences last term which included two placed efforts in Grade One events at Leopardstown.
Philip Hobbs won the Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup in 2004 with Monkerhostin and has two high-class entries in Grade One-winning novice chaser Menorah and Wishfull Thinking, who triumphed by 18 lengths in the two-mile Shloer Chase at The Open on November 18.
Other notable entries are Ferdy Murphy's Divers, who won the Listed Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase at The Festival in 2011, and last weekend's stylish Ascot scorer The Rainbow Hunter, trained by Kim Bailey.