Alan King has hailed Sceau Royal as a “legend” as the nine-year-old goes in search of a third win in the Unibet Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.
Way back in 2016, Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s versatile performer won Saturday’s race as a four-year-old.
He has since gone on to prove himself even better over fences, while also winning the Elite again easily last year – and he looked as good as ever when beating Silver Streak at Kempton on his recent reappearance.
“He’s a legend. He’s going for a third win in this and is very much a yard favourite,” said King.
“He’s in good order and he came out of Kempton well, so I’m looking forward to running him.
“Crucially the ground should suit. We all know he’s better on some nice ground.”
Gary Moore’s Goshen is on something of a retrieval mission this season, following an up-and-down campaign last time around.
He did, though, manage his only win over this course and distance in the Kingwell Hurdle.
There are two Irish runners in Norman Lee’s Sole Pretender, who won the Grimes Hurdle, and Peter Fahey’s Belfast Banter – an impressive winner of the County Hurdle at Cheltenham before then stepping up on that to win a Grade One at Aintree.
He has since finished midfield in the Galway Hurdle, and took a heavy fall at Listowel last time out.
“It’s a tight track, and there’ll be loads of pace involved in the race,” said Fahey.
“It could suit him and hopefully he’ll run a huge race. He’s forward and is fit and well in himself.
“He was a bit sore the day after his fall at Listowel but he’s come out of it fine. He’s schooled well at home. Everything seems fine. He was going to run a big race that day.”
Paul Nicholls runs Christopher Wood, the mount of Bryony Frost, with Harry Cobden on Sole Pretender.
Also on the card is the 60th Badger Beer Handicap Chase – a race Nicholls has dominated down the years, but the unseasonably quick ground has played havoc with his planning this time.
He declared top weight Truckers Lodge and Highland Hunter in the hope of getting in a prep for the Welsh National for both – but took them out on Friday afternoon, having walked the track with clerk of the course Dan Cooper.
King runs Potterman, who in contrast likes good ground, but the trainer warns he will come on for his first outing of the season.
A short-head runner-up to the re-opposing El Presente in this race 12 months ago, Potterman went on to win the Bet365 Gold Cup following an inquiry – but he was last seen pulling up at Perth in June.
“I think by the time he got to Perth in June he’d just had enough,” said King.
“He’d had a good year before that and has had a good break. He is only just ready to start back now, but I wanted to try and get a run into him before the Ladbroke Trophy.
“I think whatever he does in this he will come on for the race, and also he’s pretty high in the handicap now. The handicapper has probably got him as well, but he likes going right-handed and he won’t mind the ground, so we’ll see how he gets on.”
El Presente, Emma Lavelle’s Irish Prophecy, Fergal O’Brien’s Hurricane Harvey and the Christian Williams-trained Cap Du Nord are other major players in a typically competitive renewal.
All eyes were set to be on Nicholls’ Bravemansgame in the John Romans Park Homes “Rising Stars” Novices’ Chase, following his sparkling chasing debut at Newton Abbot, but the champion trainer pulled him out too on Friday.
Nicholls tweeted: “Have just walked @wincantonraces with @Dan_WCooper
and after their sterling effort watering we both agree the chase track is good, good to firm in places and therefore too fast to run Bravemansgame . @CobdenHarry will switch to Mick Pastor.”