Alan King is confident Sceau Royal is back on-song ahead of his bid for back-to-back victories in the Betfair Exchange Game Spirit Chase.
Runner-up to the brilliant Altior in 2020, Sceau Royal went one better in last year’s renewal of the Grade Two contest to record his sixth chase victory.
The versatile 10-year-old kicked off the current campaign over the smaller obstacles, winning a Listed prize at Kempton and his second Elite Hurdle at Wincanton before placing third in the Fighting Fifth.
He disappointed on his most recent outing in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December, but King is expecting a much better showing from his stable stalwart on Saturday.
“He had a busy start to the season and we made a bit of a mess of it running him back quickly at Cheltenham after the Fighting Fifth,” said the Barbury Castle handler.
“He’s back in very good form. James Bowen is going to ride him for the first time – he schooled him last week and that went fine.
“The weather forecast is in our favour – we should get decent ground.
“It’s a cracking race, as it’s entitled to be, but I hope the old boy will run well.”
Sceau Royal has been an excellent servant to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede – and their racing manager Anthony Bromley is similarly optimistic of a big run this weekend.
He said: “Newbury suits him as it is a left-handed track and it will be good to see him back over fences.
“We will make a decision after the weekend about the Champion Chase.
“He is a decent ground horse, so the ground conditions should be ideal for him.”
Paul Nicholls has an excellent record in the Game Spirit, with Flagship Uberalles (2000), Azertyuiop (2004 and 2005) and Master Minded (2008 and 2010) among his previous winners.
The Ditcheat handler saddles another major contender in Hitman, who has finished second in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter and the Tingle Creek at Sandown so far this season.
Nicholls said: “The Game Spirit has been the plan for Hitman since the Tingle Creek. We were always going to end up here rather than take on those two superstars, Shishkin and Energumene, at Ascot in the Clarence House.
“Obviously he has been second in the Tingle Creek and Haldon Gold Cup, he won at Newbury last year and this fits in nicely – it’s the ideal race for him.”
With Gary Moore’s Editeur Du Gite a significant non-runner, the field is completed by the Venetia Williams-trained Funambule Sivola and Sky Pirate from Jonjo O’Neill’s yard.
Course and distance winner Funambule Sivola steps up in class following a handicap win at Doncaster, while Sky Pirate bids for his first victory since landing the Grand Annual at Cheltenham last March.