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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