Nicky Richards is confident Guitar Pete will put up a staunch defence of his crown in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
The grey saw off Clan Des Obeaux to claim the valuable prize 12 months ago and returns for a repeat bid just 3lb higher in the weights.
He advertised his well-being when third behind the reopposing pair of Baron Alco and Frodon in last month’s BetVictor Gold Cup, and Richards expects his charge to at least close the gap this weekend.
He said: “He’s in grand form and we’re looking forward to it.
“He ran a great race there last month and we think this track (New course) suits him a bit better.
“He’s in really good fettle. We weighed him the other day and his weight is pretty much spot-on.”
Guitar Pete would become only the second dual winner after the Paul Nicholls-trained Poquelin, who landed successive renewals in 2009 and 2010.
Richards added: “I hope everyone gets a clean run round and may the best horse win.
“Our horse won’t be far away, I promise you.”
Gary Moore’s Baron Alco was runner-up to Road To Respect at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival before being sidelined for 19 months by injury.
He ran an excellent race on his comeback when narrowly denied by Charbel at Chepstow before claiming last month’s Prestbury Park feature.
Moore, who also saddles outsider Casse Tete, is hopeful Baron Alco will be competitive again despite being handed a 6lb rise, as he seeks to be the fourth to win both races in the same season.
He said: “Baron Alco seems in good form and the ground looks like it will be similar to last time. He’s 6lb higher in the weights, so he’s got to be 6lb better. Hopefully there’s some improvement in him.
“Casse Tete will be a big price, but he’s not a bad horse and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet.”
Frodon was just two lengths behind Baron Alco last month and renews rivalry for Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost.
Nicholls said: “Bryony will ride again and he loves the course. He probably likes the New course more than he does the Old course.
“The Old course is a bit sharper and the New course puts a bit more emphasis on stamina – I just think that will suit him better.
“He is up another 3lb for the other day, but would that have stopped him running so well last time?
“He is in good form and we are hopefully of another good run.”
Heading the betting is Nicky Henderson’s Rather Be, who was travelling ominously well in the BetVictor Gold Cup when he was brought down four fences from the finish.
Henderson said: “Everything has been great since Cheltenham. It didn’t worry him.
“He was going very well at the time and he jumped like a bird the whole way and then he suddenly landed and it was carnage. He came straight back and schooled. We’ve schooled him in behind horses and he is as good as ever.”
The Seven Barrows handler has a second string to his bow in the mare Casablanca Mix, and added: “Three miles was probably a bit far for her at Market Rasen last time (finished second) and this is probably a better trip.
“Good ground is helpful to her.”
Having claimed last weekend’s Becher Chase with Walk In The Mill, trainer Robert Walford bids for another big-race success with recent Ascot winner Mr Medic.
“He’s in good form and we’ll give it a go,” said the Dorset-based trainer.
“Softer ground wouldn’t worry me – I wouldn’t run on heavy, but he’s a stronger horse now.
“He’s seven going on eight and is lightly raced. Whether Ascot is as good as he is, we’ll have to wait and see.”