Alan King is keeping his fingers crossed Sceau Royal can make the most of Altior’s absence in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase.
The seven-year-old finished behind Nicky Henderson’s superstar chaser on three occasions last season, including excellent placed efforts in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham and the Celebration Chase at Sandown.
Having suffered his first defeat over jumps at Ascot last month, Altior was due to return to two miles at Kempton on Friday, but was ruled out on Thursday morning due to an abscess.
His defection leaves Sceau Royal as clear favourite for the two-mile Grade Two, despite having finished only sixth on his first start of the campaign in the Tingle Creek.
King said: “I wish it would stop raining. We all know he doesn’t want soft ground, but he’s ready for another run.
“We’ve been happy with him since Sandown. This isn’t his ground, but he’s in good form and we’ll give it a roll.”
Sceau Royal is one of five runners, with Willie Mullins sending last season’s Arkle hero Duc Des Genievres back across the Irish Sea.
The other hopefuls are the Paul Nicholls-trained Capeland, Dr Richard Newland’s recent Ludlow scorer Caid Du Lin and Bun Doran from Tom George’s yard.
The latter steps up in class after being raised 6lb for a narrow handicap defeat at Newbury last month.
“The handicapper has forced our hand to try the next level,” said George.
“He’s on 156 now, so there aren’t many options for him. We’ll see how we get on.”
The other Grade Two on the second day of the Ladbrokes Christmas Festival is the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase.
The hot favourite is the Venetia Williams-trained Fanion D’Estruval, who made a huge impression on his British debut at Newbury four weeks ago – earning him a rise in class.
Harry Whittington is looking forward to saddling Rouge Vif, who looked the part on his chasing debut at Market Rasen before finishing last of four in the Arkle Trophy Trial at Cheltenham.
Whittington said: “He is in good form and has come out of his last run really well. He schooled well last week and we are looking forward to running him.
“It was the first time we had ridden him with a lead at Cheltenham. It was heavy ground and he settled really nicely.
“He jumped well and he was there until the last. He was just tapped for toe in that sprint up the hill on ground that wasn’t his preference.
“There is no doubt he is a better horse on better ground, but he handled the track very well. A flat track might suit him better, but there is no problem with the track.
“He is a good novice and he has not put foot wrong over fences with his jumping, so onwards and upwards.”
Al Dancer (Nigel Twiston-Davies), Editeur Du Gite (Gary Moore), Global Citizen (Ben Pauling) and Grand Sancy (Paul Nicholls) complete the six-strong line-up.