Happy Diva Could Seek Rare Double in Caspian Caviar Gold Cup

The first three from the BetVictor Gold Cup – Happy Diva, Brelan D’As and Warthog – feature among 38 entries for the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday, December 14 – day two of The International meeting.

Happy Diva, who hails from the yard of Kerry Lee was brought down when going well in the 2018 BetVictor Gold Cup, but gained compensation in this year’s renewal of the prestigious contest when digging deep under conditional rider Richard Patrick to fend off the persistent challenge of Brelan D’as by a neck.

That brave success was a career-best performance by the eight-year-old mare, but a 6lb rise in the weights now means that she now has to race off a career-high makr of 149 and that is going to make follow-up no easy task. However, if Happy Diva does defy it she will become just the fourth horse to win both the BetVictor Gold Cup and Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in the same season following Pegwell Bay (1988), Senor El Betrutti (1997) and Exotic Dancer (2006).

Trainer Kerry Lee said:

Happy Diva has come out of the BetVictor Gold Cup in good form. We were delighted with the performance and it was fantastic to see her win a big race like that.

“She has been entered in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and that race is a possible target. At this stage, the race is an option and we will make a firm decision nearer the time.”

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Cepage bidding to go one better

Cepage went down by just 1 1/2 lengths to subsequent Grade 1 Ryanair Chase hero Frodon in last year’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, where his cause was not helped by a bad mistake two from home, and the seven-year-old will attempt to go one better.

Trained by Venetia Williams, Cepage did not race for the remainder of last season but looked as good as ever on return to action in a valuable handicap chase at Aintree when a 1 3/4 length second to the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Riders Onthe Storm – who also holds a Caspian Caviar Gold Cup entry.

Williams said: “Cepage shaped really well at Aintree when finishing second. He had been off the track for 11 months after sustaining a tendon injury last year in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup. That race is again the plan with him.

“He has run some great races in defeat and it would be great if he could get his head in front in a race like this.”

Nicholls, Henderson and Mullins strongly represented

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls is the most successful handler in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup with five wins courtesy of Poquelin (2009, 2010), Unioniste (2012), and Frodon (2016, 2018).

Aside from Brelan D’As, the Ditcheat handler has also entered d impressive Ascot scorer Capeland, Secret Investor and Magic Saint.

Nicky Henderson has seven entries, the most of any trainer. They include O O Seven, who has not been seen since plundering a valuable handicap chase at the Punchestown Festival, talented mare Casablanca Mix, plus Rather Be and Theinval who have both been placed at the Cheltenham Festival.

All-conquering Willie Mullins is responsible for both of the Irish-trained entries – multiple Grade 2 winner Acapella Bourgeois and second season chaser Robin des Foret.

The Nicky Richards trained Guitar Pete landed the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in 2017 and could attempt to become the third multiple winner of the race, following Poquelin (2009, 2010) and Frodon (2016, 2018).

Other eye-catching entries include Kalashnikov, a Grade 1-winning novice last season, and Keeper Hill who captured a competitive graduation chase at Haydock Park on seasonal reappearance.

The weights for the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup will be released at noon on Wednesday, 4 December.

International Hurdle on agenda for Champion Hurdle hope Pentland Hills

On the same card, the highest-rated juvenile hurdler of last season Pentland Hills is set to make his eagerly awaited seasonal reappearance in the Grade 2 International Hurdle. The 2m 1f furlong contest is a key trial for the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, for which he is currently a 10/1 third favourite with Coral in the ante post betting. Formerly based with Newmarket handler Chris Wall, Pentland Hills is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles since joining Nicky Henderson. 

Following victory in a minor contest at Plumpton in February, the son of Motivator sprung a 20/1 surprise in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. He then proved that was no fluke when following-up with a battling neck success over Fakir D’oudairies in the Grade 1 Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle at Aintree.

Seven Barrows handler Henderson said:

“The Unibet International Hurdle is the plan with Pentland Hills.

“He was superb last season and we were delighted with his performance in the Triumph Hurdle. We took him to Newbury for a gallop the other week and he pleased us with what he did.”

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