Alan King’s horses are in good form at present but few of his horses can have given him more pleasure of late than seeing the classy Walkon very nearly defy a 22-month absence with a superb effort in defeat at Ascot on Saturday in the Grade 2 Holloway’s Hurdle, writes Elliot Slater.

A leading juvenile hurdler two seasons ago, Walkon won two Grade 1 events and a Grade 2 and was a close second on two other occasions, including when going under by just three-quarters-of-a-length to Zaynar in the 2009 JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. A horse of tremendous potential, the now six-year-old gelding had been on the sidelines for nearly two years after winning the top notch Matalan Anniversary 4-y-o Novices’ Hurdle at the Aintree Festival where he gained swift compensation for defeat at Cheltenham races, winning by 13-lengths from Ski Sunday, another horse to reappear recently and run very well.

Owner Max McNeill’s grey returned to the fray burdened with top weight of 11-10 against some talented handicappers but very nearly pulled off a fairytale win having been held up at the rear of the field under Robert Thornton, before creeping into contention on the home turn and being produced to lead at the final flight. The combination of a long absence and the concession of 19lbs to the tenacious Tiger O’Toole, eventually proved just too much and Walkon was worn down close home, going down to a narrow half-length defeat.

King was barely able to hide his delight at the run and is now taking a very close look at the possibility of Walkon bidding for the Totesport Trophy at Newbury next month, a race for which he has been cut to just 12/1 after his fine effort at Ascot.