Kempton on St Stephen’s Day is very much the aim for the seven-year-old, who was such an impressive winner of the Feltham Novices’ Chase over course and distance 12 months ago.
But he has only appeared twice since then and has underachieved on both occasions, finishing a well-beaten fourth behind Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase and then being pulled up on his reappearance when a scalding hot favourite for the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
Trainer David Pipe then sought the advice of renowned vet Geoff Lane, who suggested he had a procedure to cauterise his palate to improve breathing.
“I don’t think he’s in full swing yet, but he’s very well and I think David’s very happy with him,” said Stanley.
“He’s obviously fit, but we want to see the real Grands Crus come back.”
Grands Crus had beaten both Bobs Worth, the subsequent winner of the Hennessy, and Betfair and Charlie Hall Chase hero Silviniaco Conti in the Feltham, and Stanley said: “It’s testament to the novices of last year that they have done so well and we want to be part of it, but he won’t run if he’s less than 100%.
Paul Nicholls is still adapting to life after Kauto Star, who contributed five of the champion trainer's seven victories in the Christmas highlight, including last year.
Now the great champion has been retired, with a dressage career in the offing, the two representatives from Ditcheat will be Paddy Power winner Al Ferof and Kauto Star’s half-brother Kauto Stone, who impressed on his comeback at Down Royal.
Nicholls does have a slight headache over bookings as his second jockey Daryl Jacob is contesting a suspension which would rule him out of the race.
“Ruby Walsh has ridden Al Ferof through his career and the plan was for him to ride, and Daryl won on Kauto Stone at Down Royal,” he said.
“Daryl will ride if he can get off the suspension, but if he can’t, then we’ll find the best available.
“The two horses canter and school together and both need to be fresh.
“I think Al Ferof has an outstanding chance and while I think Kauto Stone is the one who has to improve the most, he has done well since having a breathing operation in the summer.”
Nicky Henderson was celebrating his 62nd birthday, which prevented him from attending a sponsors' event in London, and he was represented by his assistant, Charlie Morlock.
It was not suggested whether Champion Chase winner Finian’s Rainbow would take up the third of the trio of entries from Seven Barrows, but Kauto Star’s old sparring partner Long Run will certainly be joined by Riverside Theatre in the line-up.
Long Run, who was so impressive in the 2010 renewal before being put in his place by Kauto Star last year, was second to Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase.
Riverside Theatre gave Henderson a one-two in that King George but is never able to take many races in a season.
“He seems a very different horse in his vitality and buzz,” said Morlock of Long Run.
“He’s doing nicely and will improve for the run at Haydock.
“Riverside Theatre seems to run really well fresh. Last year he has a delayed preparation after one or two little problems in the autumn but he had a racecourse gallop at Kempton with (top hurdlers) Darlan and Grandouet and he worked very well.”