Gary Moore has conceded that Sire De Grugy is likely to be short of peak fitness when he makes his eagerly-awaited return in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on February 7.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase hero has not run since winning at Sandown in April last year, having his plans for this season disrupted by a setback.
Moore said: “He’s not as fit as I’d like at this stage. He worked this morning and he worked well – as long as he improves for his work on Saturday I’ll be satisfied, but he did look like he needed the work this morning.”
Asked if he was confident the nine-year-old was as good as ever, Moore said: “I couldn’t answer that question truthfully now, but I’d be very disappointed if he wasn’t and very surprised if he wasn’t.
“I don’t think he’ll go to Newbury as fit as he can be, but it’s not all about Newbury is it.”
Another two-mile star, Sprinter Sacre, made his return from a long absence at Ascot over the weekend, finishing second to Dodging Bullets.
Assessing his performance, Moore said: “He didn’t fill me with any dread, obviously there’s issues going on with the horse but he looked extremely fit the other day and I don’t think he blew up, he was probably race-rusty.
“You can’t leave Dodging Bullets out of it (Champion Chase equation), he’s taken nearly the same route as us last year and doing the same as we did.
“It’s not just a two-horse race.”
With his recuperation having gone well, Moore is set to school his stable star over fences for the first time since his setback.
He added: “I’m going to sit down and talk things through with Jamie (Moore, jockey), but the plan is to school him for the first time since his accident either tomorrow morning or even Friday.
“We’ll just have to see how he is and also, more importantly, watch what the weather does.
“The plan is still very much to head to Newbury two weeks on Saturday for the Game Spirit. We’ll continue to step up his work between now and then with his last proper piece of work on the Tuesday before.”
Meanwhile, leading Aintree contender Unioniste tops a list of 42 entries for the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock on February 14.
Paul Nicholls’ charge is among the favourites for the Crabbie’s Grand National after running out a comfortable 10-length victor in a three-mile chase at Sandown earlier this month.
The Alan King-trained Godsmejudge is also prominent in the Aintree market and is a notable entry along with the likes of Welsh National winner Emperor’s Choice as well as the Chepstow second and third, Benvolio and Glenquest.
Harry Topper has been given the option by Kim Bailey, with last year’s winner Rigadin De Beauchene in line to defend his title and Monbeg Dude another notable possible.
The sponsors make Unioniste the 6-1 favourite.