Happy Boy was a welcome winner for Chris Gordon at Kempton on Monday and he will be a happy man if he can wrest the last major race of the National Hunt season when he saddles Annual Invictus in the bet365 handicap chase at Sandown on Saturday.

The nine-year-old bay had been an intended for the Grand National but with his low weight and the huge Irish entry, he was inevitably balloted out of the 34 strong field. "That was very disappointing," he reflected over bacon and eggs at his Morestead yard. "In any other year, he would have got in and the ground had dried up."

The nine-year-old bay certainly has no problems making the cut in the three mile, four furlong marathon, where he is set to carry 11st 1lbs in a field with a maximum 20 starters. The winner of eight races, Annual Invictus holds a remarkable distinction - the holder of three track records achieved at Newbury, Cheltenham and Doncaster where this season he took the Great Yorkshire Chase, partnered by Gordon's son Freddie who has retained the ride for the big chase.

There are no fears about him getting the trip. "He finished very well in the race last year when sixth, and the ground will be more in his favour this time. He's a better horse, the better the ground. He does his best on a firm surface and I think he has a great chance. He's 20/1 and in very good order. He won't be ridden from the front but will be kept handy."

Should he prevail, it will undoubtedly be the biggest triumph for Gordon who with his wife Jenny moved to their set up in 2007 with just four racehorses and a handful of hunters to embark on training horses for a living, Sheer hard work, talent and bigger owners have witnessed success in increasing regularity over the years, culminating with 52 successes and prize money in excess of £650,000 last year. 

Sadly, the upward curve has not been maintained this term with just 27 winners returning to their base. "The first half of the season was particularly poor," he said. "We had a very good winner at Cheltenham early on but after that we really struggled. Something was hanging over the horses. We couldn't say it was this or that causing the problem but a lot of other yards have been in trouble as well. Just look at Nicky Henderson's.

"We had to be patient and ease off them. It is one of those strange things that in racing the less you do in these circumstances is more positive. You can't work horses any harder. Fortunately we came out of it in early February."

Gordon, well used to the swings and roundabouts of the game, is philosophical about the downturn. "It's life. It's not great when you are not firing on all cylinders. You simply have to go with the flow."