Harry Whittington believes Vinnie Lewis is capable of regaining his crown in the Sky Sports Racing Sussex National at Plumpton.
The nine-year-old was a ready winner of the extended three-and-a-half-mile contest in 2018, but did not run in the most recent renewal 12 months ago.
Vinnie Lewis could finish only sixth on his seasonal reappearance at Sedgefield in October – after which he ran in last month’s London National at Sandown, which was voided following the fatal injury suffered by the popular Houblon Des Obeaux.
Whittington said: “He’s in good form – and with Page Fuller’s 3lb claim, he’s only 3lb higher than when he won the race two years ago.
“It didn’t work out for him at Sedgefield. They went a slow pace, and it turned into a sprint – which didn’t suit him.
“He then ran in the void race at Sandown, and we felt he would have stayed on to run well that day.
“He’s dropping back in grade for a race he’s won before, so we’re fairly hopeful.”
Vinnie Lewis heads a field of 11 runners for Sunday’s £32,200 feature.
Hard To Forget bids for a third successive win for Henry Oliver; Colin Tizzard’s Christmas In April is looking to follow up a recent victory at Fontwell, and Belle Empress represents the Ladbrokes Trophy-winning combination of trainer Emma Lavelle and 5lb claimer Ben Jones.
Belle Empress was last seen landing a three-and-three-quarter-mile race at Exeter a month ago.
“She was great over that extended distance at Exeter, and I think those marathon trips really suit her,” said Lavelle.
“It’s obviously a different track, but she seems well and she’s all about stamina, so I hope she’ll run well.”
Other hopefuls include the Evan Williams-trained Billy Bronco and Garrane from Jeremy Scott’s yard.