Huntingdon double on Happy Diva agenda

Happy Diva has her sights set on winning this month’s Pertemps Lady Protectress Mares’ Chase at Huntingdon for a second time.

Kerry Lee’s talented mare defeated Magic Of Light to take the Listed contest over two and a half miles in 2019, having finished second the previous year.

“She’s in great form. She’s on target for the Lady Protectress at Huntingdon at the end of the month,” said the Herefordshire trainer.

Happy Diva was third to My Old Gold in a Listed race at Carlisle on her latest start at the end of November, two weeks after falling at the second-last when disputing fourth place in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

The 10-year-old had won that race too in 2019.

“She was unlucky at Cheltenham, unfortunately – (but) such is life,” said Lee.

“She’s quite all right, and she will be going there (to Huntingdon on January 29), all things being well.”

Happy Diva heading for Houghton date

Happy Diva heads to Carlisle on Sunday for the Listed Houghton Mares’ Chase.

Kerry Lee’s stable star was in the process of running another good race in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last time out when she fell at the second last.

Happy Diva is one of eight entries for Sunday’s two-and-a-half-mile contest and while she is the highest rated in the field, Lee is wary of the potential opposition.

“It looks a good opportunity, but it’s not without dangers,” she said.

Kerry Lee (right) after Happy Diva won last year's Bet Victor (now Paddy Power)
Kerry Lee (right) after Happy Diva won last year’s Bet Victor (now Paddy Power) Gold Cup (Nigel French/PA)

“There are a couple of other really nice mares in Chilli Filli and My Old Gold. They definitely have to be respected and we won’t be going there not expecting a fight.

“It was frustrating in the Paddy Power, she was still right in contention when coming down.

“I was just relieved to see her get up in one piece and she should have every chance this weekend. Her ultimate target is the mares’ chase at the Festival.

“I’d pretty much think that this is her last season.”

Lee looks to have the perfect candidate to step in to her shoes as a Saturday horse in Demachine, who impressed again at Ascot last weekend to remain unbeaten over fences.

When asked how he had come out the race Lee replied: “He came out of it 8lb higher!

“We’ll see how we go, nothing is set in stone at the moment and he’s still only a 140 horse – the big guns are out at Newbury this weekend.

“I daren’t wax lyrical about him just yet, that was only the sixth run of his life and he’s still only six. We minded him last year and we probably will do again this year.

“He’ll be out again at the end of December at either Chepstow or Newbury in another novice handicap.

“I’m not in any desperate rush with him this season. I’m not going to make any bold plans, I’d rather build up his confidence ahead of next season when he might be a Ladbrokes Trophy horse.”

Happy Diva bidding for famous double at Cheltenham

Happy Diva aims to become the first back-to-back winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup since Bradbury Star when the Kerry Lee-trained mare lines up at Cheltenham on Saturday.

While Cyfor Malta did win the famous handicap twice after Josh Gifford’s top-class performer, his victories came four years apart.

Happy Diva may turn 10 on New Year’s Day, but continued to improve throughout last season and was second at the Festival behind Simply The Betts, whom she meets on better terms this weekend.

When it was put to her that Happy Diva would be attempting to emulate one of the greats of the National Hunt scene, Lee said: “She’s already one of the greats in our eyes!

Jockey Richard Patrick and trainer Kerry Lee (right) celebrate 12 months ago
Jockey Richard Patrick and trainer Kerry Lee (right) celebrate 12 months ago (Nigel French/PA)

“I still maintain that her career-best effort was at the Festival last year, she just got chinned. She’s in great form going there, but we know she’s up against it as she’s up in the handicap (from last year).

“At the weights we probably can’t win but we’ve got to have a go at it, her prep run brought her on and we’re 100 per cent happy that she’ll run her best race, whether that is good enough we’ll find out.

“This will probably her her last handicap – mares’ races like the one at Doncaster at Christmas, where she just got beat by Lady Buttons, and the new one at the Festival are probably what we’re looking at.”

Simply The Betts has taken to chasing with real aplomb, winning four of his five starts last season, culminating in his win in March.

That was a breakthrough at the big meeting for trainer Harry Whittington, who has been delighted with his preparation for this.

“We were thinking about the Old Roan or the Paddy Power in the summer and the same owners have got Itchy Feet, so it makes sense for him to be going back to Cheltenham,” said Whittington.

“He’s two from two, he loves the track, he thrives (there). I think that’s a huge advantage.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“He’s fresh, he’s incredibly well. He’s done plenty of work because he started off when he came in in June.

“His work has been sparkling, we’re very happy with him and he’s won fresh every season so we’re really looking forward to running him.”

Happy Diva was the beneficiary of a late fall by Slate House last year with Colin Tizzard’s charge, who was a novice at the time, slipping up two out.

He later went on to win a Grade One at Kempton and assistant trainer Joe Tizzard feels he is back in top form.

He said: “He has not had a prep run before the race this year, but he goes well fresh. He likes the track and it seems like a nice target for him.

“It looked like he was cruising in last year’s race until he fell, but it was just one of those things. As his season went on he improved like we hoped he would although the Cheltenham Festival never really worked out for him.

“He is quite a bit higher in the weights this year, but we still feel it is the right race for him.

“If you forget his Cheltenham Festival run he has always run pretty well round Cheltenham. He goes well fresh and runs well at this time of year.”

The Russian Doyen is quietly fancied by Joe Tizzard
The Russian Doyen is quietly fancied by Joe Tizzard (David Davies/PA)

The Tizzards also saddle one of the outsiders, The Russian Doyen, but he could outrun his odds.

Tizzard said: “He got injured at Aintree and that was it for last season, but the season before he finished fourth in the Listed novice handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival where he was the best of the English-trained runners.

“He could be a slightly forgotten horse and had a nice prep run over hurdles at Fontwell. I think he has got a great each-way chance.”

The ante-post favourite for a long time was Paul Nicholls’ Saint Sonnet, before he was joined at the head of the betting by Mister Fisher and Simply The Betts.

Nicholls told Betfair of his French import: “We freshened him up before he won a little race at Catterick at the end of February and he then ran an encouraging race in the Marsh Chase at the Festival. I’ve had the Paddy Power Gold in mind for him ever since.

“Saint Sonnet has had a perfect preparation since coming back into training at the start of July, he should be very fit, and a mark of 147 is fair enough without being a gift.

“I did plan to give him a pop over hurdles at Chepstow a month ago, but took him out because the ground was too quick. He is an improving five-year-old and I couldn’t be happier with him.”

The Pipe family have a good record in this race and David Pipe hopes new recruit Siruh Du Lac can get involved at the finish on his first run since leaving Nick Williams.

Siruh Du Lac was a Cheltenham Festival winner for Lizzie Kelly in 2019
Siruh Du Lac was a Cheltenham Festival winner for Lizzie Kelly in 2019 (Nigel French/PA)

“Siruh Du Lac is in good form. He had a wind operation over the summer. He works well as you would expect from a 150-rated horse. He needs to step up his game to be involved in the finish, but he has been working well at home and we are very much looking forward to it,” said Pipe.

“Siruh Du Lac has been to all the big occasions anyway. He usually races up towards the front of the field and touch wood is a good jumper.

“He did fall at Cheltenham last time and you just think about whether horses remember that. He has jumped nicely at home and jumping is one of his strengths, so I think he was just unlucky last time.

“The horses have been in good form and are running well. We of course have a history with the Paddy Power meeting, and it would be great to enjoy another good weekend at Cheltenham.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies is another trainer with a good record in the race and feels the step up in trip could suit his Al Dancer.

The William Hill ambassador said: “His win first time up this season at Newton Abbot was quite remarkable to be honest. The reason why I felt it was so good was because he settled so well, better than he ever had done before, and that could be the key to him.

“He had to run over two miles before because he wouldn’t settle, but if he settles here then this trip might bring out the best in him. I think this extra distance should put him ahead of the handicapper.”

Paddy Power Gold Cup Trends

Run over 2m 4 ½ furlongs the Paddy Power Gold Cup is the feature contest at the three-day Cheltenham Open Meeting, held each year in the middle of November (13th-15th Nov 2020).

The ‘Pond House’ Pipe stable are the leading yard with nine wins in the race, with Celestial Gold, Our Vic and Great Endeavour, who won the contest in 2011, their most-recent winners. In 2017, the Paddy Power Gold Cup was won by the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Splash Of Ginge – a win that gave the yard their third success in the race since 2008 and their four overall.

While last year (2019) the Kerry Lee-trained Happy Diva landed the honours under jockey Richard Patrick - she'll be looking to become the first back-to-back winner since Bradbury Star, who won the race in 1993 and 1994.

Did you know - 11 of the last 17 Paddy Power Gold Cup winners were trained by Jonjo O'Neill, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies or the Pipe yard?

Here at GeeGeez we take a look at the 2020 Paddy Power Gold Cup renewal from a stats angle – this year run on Saturday 14th November.


Recent Paddy Power Gold Cup Winners

Your first 30 days for just £1

2019 - Happy Diva (14/1)
2018 - Baron Alco (8/1)
2017 - Splash Of Ginge (25/1)
2016 - Taquin Du Seuill (8/1)
2015 – Annacotty (12/1)
2014 – Caid Du Berlais (10/1)
2013 – Johns Spirit (7/1)
2012 – Al Ferof (8/1)
2011 – Great Endeavour (8/1)
2010 – Little Josh (20/1)
2009 – Tranquil Sea (11/2 fav)
2008 – Imperial Commander (13/2)
2007 – L’Antartique (13/2)
2006 – Exotic Dancer (16/1)
2005 – Our Vic (9/2 fav)
2004 – Celestial Gold (12/1)
2003 – Fondmort (3/1 fav)
2002 – Cyfor Malta (16/1)

Paddy Power Gold Cup Betting Trends

18/18 – Aged 9 or younger (last winner aged in double-figures was in 1975)
18/18 – Had run at Cheltenham before
17/18 – Had won over at least 2m4f over fences before
17/18 – Won by a UK-based trainer
14/18 – Returned 14/1 or shorter in the betting
13/18 – Carried 11st or less
12/18 – Had won at Cheltenham before
12/18 – Aged 6 or 7 years-old
12/18 – Had won just 2 or 3 times over fences before
12/18 – Finished in the top 4 last time out
11/18 – Trained by Pipe (3), Jonjo O’Neill (3), Nicholls (2) or Twiston-Davies (3)
9/18 – Won by a horse in the first 3 in the betting
9/18 – Aged 7 years-old
8/18 – Won this on their seasonal reappearance
8/18 – Placed favourites
5/18 – Won their last race
4/18 – Trained by the Pipe stable
4/18 – Ran at Cheltenham last time out
3/18 – Winning favourites
3/18 – Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies
3/18 – Trained by Jonjo O’Neill
3/18 – Ran at Carlisle last time out
2/18 – Ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies
1/18 – Irish-trained winners
The last winner aged in double-figures was in 1975
Paul Nicholls has saddled 10 placed horses (two winners, Al Ferof & Caid Du Berlais) from his last 39 runners
The average winning SP in the last 18 years is 10/1













Happy Diva set to defend her Cheltenham title

Happy Diva is ready to defend her crown in next week’s Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

The Kerry Lee-trained mare proved a neck too strong for Brelan D’As 12 months ago, and later went close to a famous Cheltenham double when second to Simply The Betts in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase in March.

The nine-year-old was fifth on her return to action in a Listed handicap chase at Wetherby last week.

Bradbury Star was the last back-to-back winner of the feature race at Cheltenham’s November meeting, back in 1993 and 1994, but Lee reports her stable star – who has been allotted 11st 5lb – in good order.

Your first 30 days for just £1

She said: “Happy Diva has come out of Wetherby in fine fettle. She will come on plenty for that run, and the Paddy Power Gold Cup is once again the aim.

“We were delighted with Wetherby, because she showed every inch of her usual zest and enthusiasm for the game.

“She is a fantastic horse, and we are lucky to have her. She is so consistent and professional – she is just a pleasure to have in the yard.

“It was very special to see her win the Paddy Power Gold Cup, and hopefully she can go close again.”

She added: “I only train around 20 horses, and to be on the biggest stage in the biggest handicap pre-Christmas is very special.

Smiles all round for the Happy Diva team at Cheltenham
Smiles all round for the Happy Diva team at Cheltenham (Nigel French/PA)

“We are rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson – what she has done for my career so far is phenomenal, and hopefully we can create more memories at Cheltenham later this month.”

The Venetia Williams-trained Aso heads the weights on 11st 12lb for the £130,000 contest, while Nicholls’ seven entries this year include the sponsor’s 6-1 joint-favourite Saint Sonnet (11st 1lb), who has not raced since finishing seventh behind Samcro in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival.

A strong team for Nicholls also features Haldon Gold Cup victor Greaneteen (11st 5lb ex 5lb penalty), recent Chepstow scorer Grand Sancy (11st 3lb) and last year’s runner-up Brelan D’As (10st 11lb).

Imperial Aura (Kim Bailey) shares favouritism and will shoulder a minimum of 11st 11lb following a comeback success in the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle on Sunday.

Imperial Aura and David Bass on the way to victory at Cheltenham
Imperial Aura and David Bass on the way to victory at Cheltenham (Simon Cooper/PA)

The prolific seven-year-old ran three times at Cheltenham last season and ended the campaign with victory in the Listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase at the big meeting in the spring.

Nigel Twiston-Davies is the most successful current trainer in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, with four wins. The Gloucestershire handler’s three entries include second-season chasers Al Dancer (11st 8lb) and Good Boy Bobby (11st), who have been in winning action this season at Newton Abbot and Bangor respectively.

Harry Whittington’s Simply The Betts (11st 11lb) could face Happy Diva again – with other names to note including Mister Fisher (11st 9lb), one of four entries for Nicky Henderson, and Kauto Star Novices’ Chase victor Slate House (Colin Tizzard, 11st 6lb).

Happy Diva returns to trusted schedule

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.

Your first 30 days for just £1

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.”