Kerry Lee is delighted with Demachine’s preparation as he takes on the best the top English and Irish trainers can muster in Saturday’s Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.
The Presteigne trainer reports the lightly-raced seven-year-old to be ready for the big test this prestigious staying handicap chase presents.
Demachine may not have run since finishing second to Remastered in the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot in February but Lee points out he won on his chasing debut at Uttoxeter in October, 2020, on his first start for 214 days.
“He’s really good. Everything he’s doing has pleased us. His last piece of work was very good and I’m hopeful the ground will really suit him,” she said.
“Obviously, he’s untried at three-miles-two (furlongs). That has to be a question mark but we take it he’ll stay. He gives no reason to say he won’t and I think he’s bred to stay and he’s a second-season chaser.
“It’s a very competitive renewal with the Irish horses in it and the best from this country too.
“We have a competitive chance and I think we are entitled to be there and you could argue he is best fresh as he won first time out last season. He beat some decent novice chasers at Uttoxeter, so it’s fingers crossed.
“He’s rated 142. I think that’s fair on the evidence he has shown so far. Do I think he’s well in? How can I possibly know? We’ll find out on Saturday.
“I could do with this with Messrs De Bromhead, Mullins and Nicholls and so on in there. They don’t make it easy for the smaller trainers like us. If Sue Smith can do it (with Midnight Shadow in the Paddy Power Gold Cup), let’s hope I can too.”
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Chantry House put himself “back on track” for the big spring festivals with a return to winning form in Wetherby’s Bet At racingtv.com Novices’ Chase.
Jockey Nico de Boinville could reflect on a retrieval mission successfully completed as last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third put behind him a 14-length defeat on his second chase start at Cheltenham in December.
Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old jumped economically and well to land the odds as 4-5 favourite, by three-and-a-quarter lengths from Coconut Splash.
Chantry House led early in the straight and stayed on well, earning a new quote of 10-1 from Paddy Power for next month’s Marsh Novices’ Chase back at Cheltenham.
De Boinville was not about to pinpoint that target, or any others, but pronounced himself very satisfied after winning with his only mount on the card.
“I was happy with that,” he said.
“He’s put Cheltenham behind him there. He jumped well, despite the ground. You couldn’t really be asking for too many big jumps, because he wouldn’t last home then.
“(But) his jumping was very measured, I think.
“I don’t know what the plan is – we’ll leave that to connections and the boss.”
Chantry House was conceding 6lb to an undoubtedly useful runner-up, and De Boinville added: “I thought that was probably the one, coming into this race, we were going to have to beat.
“That was good – back on track. That was the most important thing after Cheltenham the last day.
“He’s jumped and travelled well, which is what we were hoping for.
“I think he’ll be better on better ground as well.”
Kerry Lee does have a specific Cheltenham race in mind for Ballybegg after the 10-11 favourite’s determined victory in the opening Every Race Live On Racing TV Novices’ Hurdle.
Following her 100th winner in Britain, the Herefordshire trainer was kind enough to suggest the correct soundbite, too.
“It’s Ballybegg for the Ballymore!” she said.
The six-year-old, who led almost throughout and then battled back strongly when headed to beat expensive recruit Papa Tango Charly by a head, remains a general 66-1 shot for his only Cheltenham entry.
But Lee said: “I think we’ll have to seriously consider it – as long as there’s some cut in the ground.
“I’ve been in the job long enough now to think ‘Well, when you have an opportunity you should take it’.
“You don’t get many horses you can consider running in a Grade One.
“When you do, and they’ve won like that, why not?”
Ballybegg and jockey Richard Patrick were following up their wide-margin win at Hereford last month.
Lee added: “It was a very nice performance – I don’t know how good he is.
“But the runner-up is a very decent horse on his day, and he clearly ran a very solid race.”
Lee is readying two more stable stars for Cheltenham, in Storm Control and Happy Diva.
“It’ll be Storm Control (Kim Muir), Happy Diva (Mares’ Chase) and this chap,” she said.
“I’ve only got 20 to run – so that’s not bad, is it? We like a bit of quality.”
Storm Control also has a Grand National entry – but well down the order after the publication of the Aintree weights on Tuesday, Lee is realistic about his prospects of making the cut.
“He is in the National, but I’m not sure he’ll get in,” she said
“I had a quick count down and thought ‘aah’.
“We’ll concentrate on Cheltenham.”
Lee and Patrick were denied a double when Umbrigado beat their Destined To Shine by two and a half lengths in the feature Sixt Car Hire Handicap Chase.
David Pipe’s novice, having just his third race over fences, was adding to last month’s victory at Fontwell under Tom Scudamore – and is another who may have Festival aspirations.
Scudamore said of the 7-2 winner: “That was really good. We always thought he would make into a nice chaser, and he’s beginning to do that.
“He saw that out well in tough conditions – he’s very versatile.
“He’ll improve for more experience.
“I imagine he’ll have entries at Cheltenham, but we’ll see – whether it’s Grand Annual or the two-and-a-half (Paddy Power Plate). It’s a shame that the two-and-a-half-mile novice isn’t there any more – that would have been the race for him.”
Robbie Dunne made his first ride on Nightboattoclyro a winning one as Sam Drinkwater’s improving seven-year-old completed his hat-trick, up in grade for the racingtv.com Handicap Hurdle.
The well-backed 3-1 favourite collared front-runner West To The Bridge to prevail by almost two lengths, and Drinkwater said: “He’ll probably have one more run, then he’ll be a chaser next season.
“He won’t get in to Cheltenham, but there’s bound to be something for him at Aintree.”
West To The Bridge’s trainer Dan Skelton was successful with 9-2 shot Embole in the BoscaSports Racings Digital Display Handicap Hurdle – after which Jonathan England was suspended for 11 days for excessive use of the whip on runner-up Billy Ray.
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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.”
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Kerry Lee is keen to find out if Storm Control is a Grand National candidate should he run in the McCoy Contractors Civil Engineering Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick.
Having won at Cheltenham the last twice, most recently over three and a quarter miles, the eight-year-old is on course to face an extra three furlongs on Saturday.
He is one of 22 entries for the £50,000 prize, with Lee leaning towards this race rather than Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase at the end of the month – because it will give her a better idea regarding his stamina.
“I’m favouring Warwick at this stage, because I want to try him over the trip to see if he’s a Grand National horse,” said the Herefordshire trainer.
“He’s jumped really well the last twice, so you’d think that stretch down the back straight should suit him, but he has been to Warwick a couple of times and never run well for whatever reason.
“I’m quite convinced we can put that behind us and we can attack Warwick – I think he’ll really enjoy it.
“I’m keen to run in the Classic Chase – he worked very well this morning, so as long as the ground is suitable then we’ll try and take it on.”
Last year’s runner-up Captain Chaos, Neil King’s pair of Lil Rockerfeller and Nearly Perfect and Robert Walford’s Walk In The Mill are also in the mix.
A classy entry of nine has been received for the Grade Two McCoy Contractors Hampton Novices’ Chase.
Paul Nicholls will be looking to continue his recent excellent form with Next Destination, while If The Cap Fits and Fiddlerontheroof bring smart form to the table.
Dickie Diver, Fado Des Brosses, Full Back, Golan Fortune, Happygolucky and Kiltealy Briggs have also been entered.
The Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle is another Grade Two on the card – with Tom Lacey’s Adrimel, whose only defeat in five races under rules came in the Champion Bumper, David Pipe’s Make Me A Believer and Colin Tizzard’s Oscar Elite are among 15 possibles.
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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.
“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.”
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Kerry Lee is refusing to get carried away with Demachine despite the promising six-year-old maintaining his unbeaten record over fences at Ascot.
The 11-4 chance ran out a three-and-three-quarter-length victor in the Play The Coral “Racing Super Series” Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase – and the hope is that one day he will be taking his chance in much loftier company.
Lee said: “Fences have really been the making of him. I minded him last year and I called him the big green machine at home last season. Lovely Herefordshire grass has done him the world of good over the summer.
“He has grown and matured and we have a right nice novice chaser on our hands. Richard (Patrick) said he did make a mistake at the first one down the hill second time round, but it made him stop and think about things – it did him the world of good.
“We will keep him in novice company this season and maybe a Welsh National or Ladbrokes Trophy next year.
“For now we will enjoy the moment.”
Bridget Andrews demonstrated nerves of steel after delivering the Dan Skelton-trained Robin Gold (4-1) with a well-timed run to get up almost on the line and claim the Veolia Mares’ Handicap Hurdle by half a length.
Assistant trainer Tom Messenger said: “Bridget gave her an unbelievable ride. She won on her a couple of starts ago at Lingfield and knows that she doesn’t do a lot in front and that was the case the last day when she got beat.
“Dan and Bridget were adamant about not getting there too soon, but to ride a mare like that takes a lot of confidence. She is progressing nicely and obviously handles that ground as well.
“The tongue tie has helped and we’ve done a few different things at home. Sometimes these fillies take a little bit of working out.”
Shang Tang (9-4) opened his account at the ninth time of asking when taking a step up in trip in his stride.
Out of luck in his three bumpers and five previous hurdle starts, the Emma Lavelle-trained six-year-old finally struck gold on his first attempt over the extended two-mile-five-furlong trip of the Coral “Fail To Finish” Free Bet Novices’ Hurdle.
Lavelle said: “He has always been a bit immature. He left home in the horse box facing forwards and he arrived at the racecourse facing backwards. That’s kind of him.
“He was jumping the hurdles so fast I was thinking maybe I should have gone back to two miles, but actually he is a strong-travelling, great-jumping horse that seems to stay and that opens up a world of opportunity for him.
“He had run some really nice races and if you look at his form there are bits of it that are decent, but it just hasn’t happened for him. I think everyone will have gained confidence today.”
The Richard Spencer-trained Wonderwall earned Champion Bumper quotes in taking the Coral-sponsored finale as the 3-1 joint-favourite.
Winning rider James Bowen said: “We think a bit of him and he showed it today, Richard has done a great job with him.
“He’s been smart since the day he came. I’ve sat on him at home and he gives me a lovely feel.”
Spencer added: “There’s a Listed race back here, but we’ll just see how he comes out of it. There’s one date in March we want to get to if we can.”
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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!
“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.
“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 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 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.”
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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.
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.
“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.
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).
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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.”
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And don't forget our special Winter Season Ticket offer, which will give you access to all of these brilliant tools for the entire National Hunt season for just £149.
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