Tom Scudamore's faith in Grands Crus is undiminished as he looks forward to riding the ante-post favourite in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.
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He guided the seven-year-old grey to all his three victories over fences last season and forgave him an under-par performance in the RSA Chase at the Festival on his final outing of that campaign in March.
Scudamore knew from an early stage at Cheltenham it was not the same horse who had won Kempton's Feltham Chase with such panache on Boxing Day, but expects the real Grands Crus to turn up this time.
"I'm looking forward to it. I had a sit on him last week. He's good order," he said.
"It's going to be a tough, competitive race, but I'm very happy with him and wouldn't swap him for anything.
"From an early stage he wasn't his normal self in the RSA, but he wouldn't be the first horse to bounce back from that race.
"I've got maximum belief in him and hopefully he'll show it tomorrow.
"It's a cracking race, but that's why the Paddy Power and the Hennessy are the two winter classics before the King George.
"They are great races to win and I hope we can do it tomorrow."
Scudamore is seeking the first success in this prestigious handicap chase which his father, Peter, won in 1988 on Pegwell Bay.
Grands Crus' trainer David Pipe saddled Great Endeavour to victory 12 months ago to open his account in race his father, Martin, dominated for so long with eight victories.
The present incumbent at Pond House is simply hoping for a smooth run in the race.
"He's well, but it's a very hot and competitive race," he said.
"With luck in running, hopefully he'll be thereabouts."
Hunt Ball was last season's big success story, rising a staggering 88lb in the ratings as he won seven races including the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase at the Festival.
He was beaten in his last start, but that was in the Grade One Betfred Bowl at Aintree where he was third to Follow The Plan.
Trainer Keiran Burke and ebullient owner Anthony Knott are hoping the dream can continue.
"I'm a bit nervous, but I've done all my work now and it's down to the horse and jockey on the day," said Somerset-based Burke.
"Hunt Ball is a very laid-back horse and you have to make him work.
"He has been back in a while following his summer break, as we didn't want to get him fit too quickly.
"The Paddy Power Gold Cup is a hot handicap chase and you have to be ready for a race like that.
"He has had a racecourse gallop and lots of schooling.
"He is a bigger and stronger horse this year, having grown a little bit over the summer. Hopefully, he has improved, too.
"Aintree came quickly after Cheltenham. It was the end of a long season and I think he was just a bit tired.
"We won't know if last season has left its mark until he runs on Saturday.
"I don't think it has - he feels brilliant."
Al Ferof paid the penalty for trying to force the pace against Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle in March but trainer Paul Nicholls retains the faith.
"He goes well fresh, he jumped well for Ruby (Walsh) in the week," said the Ditcheat handler.
"While it's a tough task at the weights, if he's going to be a genuine Grade One winner of the future he has to be going close off that mark - and the same applies to Grands Crus.
"If you look at his form with For Non Stop in the Henry VIII that's good form.
"He also ran very well in a Grade One (Victor Chandler) at Ascot against Somersby.
"He made a mistake in the Arkle which ruled him out of that race and he was over the top by Aintree so I've put a line through his spring form."
Walsh feels Al Ferof is the right type of horse for the race.
"You need a Graded horse to win it. It's a handicap in a word but not many handicappers win it. They tend to be Graded horses," he told At The Races.
"Al Ferof has plenty of weight to give. He has to give Grands Crus 2lb.
"That shouldn't make much difference, but Grands Crus will be hard to beat and the team at Pond House are bullish.
"You look Al Ferof's Supreme Novices' form. He is a Grade One horse.
"If he is going to be a King George horse this season he'll have to go pretty close on Saturday."
Owner John Hales is still on a high after winning the Grand National with Neptune Collonges, but is eyeing more big-race glory.
He said: "He has raced over two and a half miles before and done very well.
"We have our eye on the King George, which he has an entry for.
"If he runs well over two and a half at Cheltenham, that would be the equivalent of three miles on a flat track like Kempton.
"Paul will make a decision about his next target after the Paddy Power."
Divers has run several good races at the track and was third in the race 12 months ago.
"Let's hope the rain misses altogether, that would be better," said trainer Ferdy Murphy.
"He's in great form. He schooled on Tuesday and worked well on Wednesday. I'm very happy with him.
"It's a hot contest, but that is exactly what you would expect for the good money on offer.
"If the ground dries up some more that would be ideal and if they cut it up a bit on Friday and it doesn't rain it will dry up even quicker."
The JP McManus-owned Quantitativeeasing finished second last year and he takes his chance again for trainer Nicky Henderson.
He won the Spinal Research Atlantic 4 Gold Cup at Prestbury Park the following month and while two subsequent unplaced efforts saw him drop a little in the ratings, he is still competing off a 9lb higher mark.
"He ran a blinder in the race last year and he seems to run well fresh," said Frank Berry, McManus' racing manager.
"Nicky is very happy with him and we're hoping for a good run again.
"He is a few pounds higher in the handicap this time but that's the price you pay for winning a good race at Cheltenham.
"He's in good form, though, and seems to like it there so we're looking forward to it."
The McManus-Henderson team have a second string to their bow in Nadiya De La Vega, who was a winner at this track last month.
"She won well there the last day but this probably looks a bit better race," Berry said.
"She did look progressive last season but then she just tailed off a bit towards the end.
"She's back in good form now, though."
Henderson has, however, taken out Tanks For That after the nine-year-old was found to have been lame.
Jonjo O'Neill struck with Exotic Dancer in 2006 and the Jackdaws Castle handler is doubly represented with the McManus-owned Finger Onthe Pulse and Gilbarry.
The former is a recent recruit to the yard having been with Tom Taaffe in Ireland until last month.
"Finger Onthe Pulse ran well the last day (third at Cheltenham) for Tom. We've not had him long," said O'Neill.
"He's a grand old lad and we're hoping he'll run a nice race.
"He likes good ground so he doesn't want any rain. He's in good old form.
"We've also got Gilbarry in there as well, but he's a fair bit out of the handicap.
"He's there, though, and will take his chance. You never know what can happen."
There are three Irish-based raiders, the highest profile one being Forpadydeplasterer, placed in many major races since his last success in the Arkle Trophy in 2009.
"He's A1. He went over there on Thursday morning. He ate up, everything's 100%, and he had a canter this morning," said his trainer Tom Cooper.
"He's a seasoned campaigner now and having his first handicap and the handicapper's been very kind to him.
"I'm very happy with him, we've got a top man (Paddy Brennan) on board and he's not out of place by any means."
With opportunities limited in Ireland, Leonard Whitmore is taking a chance with Casey Top.
"He's a summer horse, so we'd have no chance of running on good ground in Ireland between now and the spring," said the County Wexford trainer.
"He's probably not good enough to run in the March meeting at Cheltenham so we may as well come here.
"He's a small horse, but he needs good ground and is running with a light weight."
Eric McNamara would not mind some rain for Questions Answered, placed in both the Kerry and Munster National this autumn.
"He seems to be in great old form. A drop of rain might help, but I don't think the ground will be a problem for him," said the Limerick trainer.
"It's a shame the top weight (Poquelin) didn't come out - that's the only negative."
Calgary Bay was eighth in this race 12 months ago, when trained by Henrietta Knight, and is now having his first run for Mick Channon.
"He did his early prep work with Hen and has been with us for two months," said the West Ilsley's son and assistant, Michael Channon jnr.
"He's had plenty of graft and although he'll come on for the run he's pretty straight.
"This is the start of the season, but, without being a good thing, I do think he's over priced."
Andy Turnell won the race as a jockey on Bruslee in 1974 and the Wiltshire trainer is keen on the prospects of Micheal Flips.
"He's got to have a chance off his mark. I've gone to Cheltenham with hope before, though, and left disappointed," he said.
"I'm very happy with him and I've been delighted with his progress since his run at Ascot (fifth to Gus Macrae)."
Alan King believes Walkon has a lot going for him as he returns to action for the first time since pulling up in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in April.
"Walkon has run some of his best races fresh - he beat Zaynar six lengths first time out at Exeter last year - and with 10st 6lb he has the ideal weight," the Barbury Castle handler told www.alankingracing.co.uk.
"It's the first time for four years that he has carried less than 11st in a race, and he looks the right horse for the job."
"He schooled super for Choc (Robert Thornton) on Monday morning, and we could not be happier with him, though it is hugely competitive, as always, and we will need luck in running."
Kingsmere fell in a novice chase here last month, but trainer Henry Daly feels his runner will be better suited by a faster pace.
"I want a fast run race for Kingsmere which I'm pretty sure I am going to get in the Paddy Power Gold Cup," he said.
"Last time at Cheltenham they went no gallop and I think we will be better for a faster-run race."