The Conditional may be the early joint-favourite with the sponsors for Saturday's Ladbrokes Trophy, but his trainer David Bridgwater insisted he is hopeful rather than expectant that his stable star can go one better than last year.
The eight-year-old was runner-up to De Rasher Counter in the 2019 renewal of Newbury's £200,000 showpiece and was one of 19 declared at the five-day confirmation stage, with Aye Right, Black Op, Vinndication, Kildisart and Copperhead among the others vying for favouritism in a competitive field.
After several near misses with The Giant Bolster in the Gold Cup, The Conditional provided Bridgwater with his first Cheltenham Festival victory when landing the Ultima Handicap Chase in thrilling fashion in March.
Unlike many of his market rivals, The Conditional, who will once again be partnered by Brendan Powell, will be making his seasonal reappearance on Saturday and while Bridgwater is pleased with his work, he believes a lack of race sharpness could prove decisive.
Bridgwater said: "He's in good nick and we're looking forward to the race. Brendan [Powell] schooled him on Monday morning and all went well. It's his first time out this season and it is a seriously competitive race, so we wouldn't be expecting to win but instead just hopeful of a good run."
Kildisart was just held off to finish second in the Ultima and the Ben Pauling-trained eight-year-old is set to lock horns once again with his Cheltenham vanquisher.
Pauling is confident he can land a winner with just his second ever runner in the Ladbrokes Trophy after the eight-year-old, owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, made a positive reappearance when finishing third in the Grade 2 bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby last month.
"Kildisart had a nice gallop last week at Newbury and has come out nicely," Pauling said. "I was really happy with the way he worked and he schooled beautifully the following morning, so most of his prep work is done. He'll do a little piece of work on Tuesday then everything is set.
"We're positive about his chances, he's run well in big handicaps in the past and is a horse with a good profile for the race. But it is a Ladbrokes Trophy and you have to have a bit of luck!"
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Ballyoptic is set to carry top weight of 11st 12lb, one pound more than Vinndication for in-form Kim Bailey.
Ladbrokes spokesman, Jon Lees said: "This year's Ladbrokes Trophy is shaping up to be a wide-open contest, at least from a betting point of view.
"We now have Aye Right and last year's runner-up The Conditional as the 7-1 joint-favourites, and another six horses priced between 8-1 and 10-1. There will be all to play for when the field lines up at 3pm at Newbury on Saturday."
Ladbrokes Trophy Chase
Sponsors bet: 7 Aye Right, The Conditional, 8 Black Op, Copperhead, Two For Gold, Vinndication, 9 Kildisart, 10 Sam Brown, 12 Cloth Cap, Secret Investor, 16 bar