Neil King insists Lil Rockerfeller is in great form as he bids to regain his National Spirit Hurdle crown at Fontwell Park on Sunday (3.20pm).
The seven-year-old son of Hard Spun aims to become the first dual winner of the course’s richest race since Lough Derg’s triumph in 2009.
And he will face seven rivals in the Grade 2 feature contest worth £80,000, including the Paul Nicholls-trained Old Guard.
The 157-rated Lil Rockerfeller defeated the reopposing Ubak, trained by West Sussex trainer Gary Moore, by nine lengths in the National Spirit two years ago under Trevor Whelan.
The Irishman will again take the reins.
The American-bred gelding skipped the affair last year, though, and finished a brilliant second in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
His only victory this season came in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot in November, before finishing a disappointing sixth in the Long Walk Hurdle at the same course last time out.
However, King has had the 2m 3f National Spirit earmarked for his stable star since that effort.
He wanted to keep his charge fresh and purposely avoided the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
And the Malborough-based handler reckons Lil Rockerfeller is in fine fettle heading into his Fontwell run.
‘He’s in great form going into the National Spirit,’ said King.
‘We’ve purposely kept him fresh for this race. We decided not to run him in the Cleeve to keep him fresh.
‘I didn’t see any point in running him on that testing ground.
‘He’s a better horse on better ground these days and the more it drys out the happier we’ll be.
‘He won it very nicely a few years ago and hopefully he will take all of the beating again.
‘He’s a very genuine horse and a real trier. I never use the word confident but we’re very hopeful.
‘There was nothing wrong with his win this year in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot – that was a good performance over the same trip.
‘He was second in the Stayers’ Hurdle and that was no fluke.
‘That’s the sort of the class of a horse he is.’
King is adamant Lil Rockerfeller wasn’t right in the Long Walk last time out.
And he hopes a good run in the National Spirit can be the perfect warm-up race ahead of another title at the Stayers’ Hurdle.
King added: ‘He wasn’t right – there was something amiss that day which we couldn’t put a finger on.
‘We had a number of tests done on him but nothing came to light. He just ran very flat but we’ve kept him fresh for his next two assignments.
‘When he last won the National Spirit, he then ran in the Champion Hurdle and performed very well.’