Kerry Lee is sticking to the tried and tested route with Happy Diva in the Cash Out At bet365 Handicap Chase at Wetherby.
Lee’s smart mare was runner-up in Friday’s near two-and-a-half-mile contest en route to winning the BetVictor Gold Cup last year, and the valuable handicap chase at Cheltenham next month – which is now backed by Paddy Power – will again be an early-season objective.
“She’s great, she’s bounced back from last season’s career-best performances, both at Cheltenham,” said the Presteigne trainer.
“She’s hopefully as good as ever, and she’s taking the same path that she took last season. She was second in this race last year – we’re really looking forward to it.”
Happy Diva has to concede weight all round, but Lee expects the nine-year-old to run her usual solid race – whatever the conditions.
“She must be one of the most consistent horses in training,” she said.
“She seems to go on anything (ground), to be fair to her – she’s run some great races on good ground and she’s run some great races on heavy ground.
“She’s incredibly versatile. She doesn’t seem to be bothered by anything, she’s a true professional.”
Born Survivor, the winner of this race in 2018, bids to improve on his fourth place 12 months ago – and he has a handy pull at the weights with Happy Diva.
He was always going to start off the new campaign here, according to trainer Dan Skelton.
“This has been his big target since he came back in,” he said.
“He has won the race before – and although he didn’t win last year, I think he will go well.”
Sizing Platinum and Two For Gold also feature in a competitive line-up for this year’s renewal.
Skelton sends a strong team to Wetherby – with Shan Blue, Cabot Cliffs and Third Time Lucki all appearing to have good chances of success on a typically strong card.
Shan Blue made a winning debut over two and a half miles on this course two weeks ago, and steps up to three miles in the bet365 Novices’ Chase.
The six-year-old has just three rivals – but this race is a stiffer test as he attempts to emulate Sam Spinner, who won both races last autumn.
“He takes on some fancier horses this time round,” said Skelton.
“This will give us an idea what we do regarding the rest of the season, as to whether three miles is his trip. I’m very excited about running him.
“He has jumped well since winning at the track on his debut over fences this month. I can’t wait to get back out there.”
Cabot Cliffs faces the might of Gordon Elliott’s Irish stable in the Weatherbys Hamilton Wensleydale Juvenile Hurdle.
The three-year-old made a winning debut over jumps at Uttoxeter this month.
Elliott’s duo of Duffle Coat and Longclaw also bring unbeaten records to the table – while Amy Murphy’s Soldier On Parade and the Alex Hales-trained Hiconic are multiple winners.
“This is a good juvenile hurdle, and it is as competitive as this race has ever been,” said Skelton.
“He won well at Uttoxeter the other day on his first start over hurdles. He really got the hang of it late on, and steamed home from the back of the last.
“I was happy with the way he finished there – that was particularly good.”
Skelton will send Third Time Lucki north for the bet365 Novices’ Hurdle to give him more experience before going to Cheltenham next month.
The five-year-old was fourth in last season’s Champion Bumper at the Festival and made a good start to his hurdling career with victory at Uttoxeter recently.
“Third Time Lucki was very impressive at Uttoxeter a couple of weeks ago,” said Skelton.
“I hope this is another building block before we go to Cheltenham in November.
“I just felt I wanted to get him out again, because he didn’t do too much at Uttoxeter that day.
“(I want) to get a bit more experience under his belt before we look at something bigger.”