Santini will seek to justify an entry that initially “wasn’t the plan at all” when he takes his place in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up was not considered for the Boxing Day highlight originally, and Nicky Henderson still has his doubts about whether three miles at Kempton Park will see his stout stayer to best effect.
However, such is Santini’s appetite for the game, Henderson feels he is ultimately best served by having a tilt at King George glory before bidding for back-to-back victories in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in late January.
The Seven Barrows trainer said: “We were monitoring the entries, we knew what they all were and we knew there wouldn’t be a million runners. We’ve got to finish fifth to cover the supplementary fee (£5,000).
“We’ve got to be positive and he’s in very good form, so we’re up for it. Richard Kelvin-Hughes (owner) is a sportsman.”
Santini had to settle for second spot behind Lake View Lad in the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree earlier this month, a Grade Two contest in which nine fences were omitted due to low sun.
Henderson said: “Aintree wasn’t really a satisfactory race – if I wanted to run him in a bending race, I’d have sent him to the gymkhana!
“He did run a very good race, though. Last year he began in a graduation race at Sandown and was desperately unimpressive, but he wakes up for racing – you can’t work him enough.
“If we had to wait another month to run it would have been so boring for him. I hope he’ll be sharper than he was at Aintree, but my worry is the track, it’s not a big, galloping track for a big, galloping horse.
“It wasn’t the plan at all, but it’s something to do before the Cotswold Chase. The more you throw at him the better he is, and within two days he’ll be bucking and squealing again.”
The Colin Tizzard-trained Lostintranslation was well fancied for last year’s King George off the back of winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock, but never really travelled with much zest and was eventually pulled up by Robbie Power.
He bounced back to his best to finish third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – but again has something to prove on his return to Kempton after finishing tailed off in heavy ground at Haydock last month.
Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “We are quite happy with where he is and he is ready to run.
“The only thing that came out of Haydock was that it was really heavy ground and though he is a big horse, Robbie mentioned he has always been a horse better on better ground.
“There is a bit of rain due to go through Kempton, but the ground won’t be like it was at Haydock. The horse has schooled well since then and he is in good form and we are looking forward to running him.
“He has got some good horses to take on that have been in really good form, but he was only beaten a length and a half in the Gold Cup and he looked like he was travelling the best for a long way, so we know he is a very good horse.”
Waiting Patiently is an interesting contender for Ruth Jefferson as he makes his first competitive appearance since finishing a close-up third in the Tingle Creek at Sandown 12 months ago.
The Flemensfirth gelding has only tackled three miles once before, when unseating Brian Hughes in the 2018 King George.
Jefferson said: “We took him for an away-day because he hasn’t run for a little while and he seems to have come out of that well. We weren’t desperate to get a run in as he’s not a stuffy horse, and he doesn’t want a lot of racing, so we could have given him a prep run and that could have been it for the season!
“The horse is fine and the ground is fine. As far as the distance is concerned, who knows? We hope this will tell us a lot, although last time we tried three miles we learnt nothing.
“If we didn’t have a go we’d always be wondering, so we’ll try it and see how we go.”
Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados was last seen pushing Min all the way in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March, having missed an intended prep run for the King George after suffering a setback.
“He is good fresh and we have done plenty of work with him at home. He was ready for the Betfair Chase, but he picked up that infection,” said Whittington.
“A King George first time out is not ideal, but with his rating (167), where else do we go?
“He is ticking all the boxes at home, so we will roll the dice.”
Black Op completes the nine-strong field – and his trainer Tom George suggests he is no forlorn hope.
“On face value you’d probably say he was up against it, but he’s run against some of these horses before and run well against them,” the Stroud handler told Sky Sports Racing.
“In the Hennessy (Ladbrokes Trophy), he didn’t quite see out the trip. He’s a Grade One winner over hurdles. He definitely warrants taking his chance and we came close to causing an upset with Double Shuffle a couple of years ago.
“He’s in good form, he’s a high-class horse. He wasn’t beaten far in the Grade One novice chase there last Christmas.
“He liked the track that day and is ready for a good run.”