By Tom Lee

Festival Thoughts For 2022 and A Farewell to Happy Diva

By Tom Lee
A look at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival: Monkfish is well fancied for the Cheltenham Gold Cup
A look at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival: Monkfish is well fancied for the Cheltenham Gold Cup

Our resident columnist Tom Lee looks forward to the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, and provides an update on star mare Happy Diva...

Cheltenham Shakedown

Led by the rampant combination of Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore, the Irish ran riot as an unusual but nonetheless wonderful Cheltenham Festival developed out on the track over four unmissable days last week.  

At a time when spring is in the air, the vaccine is being rolled out at warp speed, the days are lengthening and the clocks are about to change, it's great to remember that with Cheltenham done and dusted we've got Aintree to look forward two in just two and a half weeks time.

Looking back though, some bookmaker reaction with a view to what might happen in a year's time, when fingers crossed the spectators will be thronging back inside Prestbury Park to cement a new set of heroes:

Shishkin - 6/4 - Queen Mother Champion Chase

It's easy to forget after Nicky Henderson had a Gold Cup to forget how impressive the mighty Shishkin was 72 hours earlier, blowing his four rivals away to come home an easy 12 length winner of the Arkle. The rising star in a division where some of the big names are beginning to look like OAP's, the layers make him 6/4 to step up and win the Champion Chase next March. 

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Honeysuckle - 3/1 - Champion Hurdle

WHAM! What a mare. Backed as if defeat was out of the question in the day one feature, Honeysuckle duly delivered a knockout blow under a gloriously simple ride from Blackmore. A perfect 11 from 11 with a huge seven Grade 1 races already her name, full steam ahead next March when she'll still only be an eight year old and very much in her prime.

Allaho - 5/1 - Ryanair Chase

One suspects not even Willie Mullins could believe quite how fluently Allaho went about his business in the Ryanair Chase, leading at pace from the third and then dismantling quality rivals from the front. Odds of 5/1 are on offer about a repeat in 2022. 

Monkfish - 9/2 - Cheltenham Gold Cup

Along with Shishkin, Honeysuckle and Envoi Allen, this lad had the distinction of being one of the most talked about runners of the entire meeting, and rightly so. A blunder at the last might have caused a few minor palpitations, but Monkfish read the script and won going away in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase. All being well it'll be the Gold Cup for him in 12 months' time, for which he's a 9/2 shot. 

Minella Indo - 8/1 - Cheltenham Gold Cup

Mugged late on by Champ at the Festival of 2020, on the deck at Leopardastown at Christmas, only fourth of five when sent off 13/8 favourite for the Irish Gold Cup just last month, it's fair to say there were questions to be answered. However, this is the same Minella Indo who popped up at 50/1 in the Albert Bartlett of 2019, the horse whose Cheltenham Festival form figures now read 1, 2, 1. He was as game as they come under Jack Kennedy in the big one on Friday, his bold jumping a major asset. He's 8/1 if you fancy him to repeat that victory in a year's time. 

Flooring Porter - 7/1 - Stayers' Hurdle

A seemingly not unreasonable 7/1 is chalked up about Gavin Cromwell's new kid on the staying block strutting his stuff again in 12 months' time. There was no fluke about his all the way, front-running, demolition job under Danny Mullins in the day three feature, and this is a division often lacking in quality. For Flooring Porter it's been quite a rise through the ranks for a horse beaten off a rating of 131 in a handicap at Gowran Park back in October!

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Lee In Line For Diva Offspring sponsor the small but effective yard of Herefordshire trainer Kerry Lee.

Lee opted to run a pair of her stable stars at last week's Cheltenham Festival, with a fine front-running effort from Storm Control as he finished in the prize money places when fifth in the three and a quarter mile Kim Muir.

Also representing her was the ever-popular mare Happy Diva, who she revealed would be retired shortly after another game effort when finishing mid division, having jumped extremely well under usual partner Richard Patrick, in the Festival Plate.

Happy Diva, the winner of seven of her 38 starts and more than £300,000 in win and place prize money, enjoyed her two most notable career victories in the year of 2019.

The first of those came when lowering the colours of subsequent Grand National runner up Magic Of Light in Huntingdon's listed Lady Protectress Mares' Chase, before 10 months later she shine at Cheltenham when landing the November Gold Cup in thrilling style, fending off the attentions of Brelan D'As to score by a neck in the £160,000 handicap. 

A real crowd and stable favourite, Diva was recruited from Ireland in the summer of 2014 by Kerry's father Richard, who purchased her on behalf of the Roseff family.

Describing the family whose distinctive yellow and purple colours the 10-year-old wore, Kerry told us: 

"It's easy when an owner loves their horse as much as they do with Diva. All decisions are made in her best interest, so it makes the job a pleasure. Throughout her career they've been loyal, supportive, encouraging and huge fun. It really was special she could give them that great day at Cheltenham in 2019, although there were so many good days where Diva was concerned."

Of the horse herself who is off to stud, Kerry went on:

"We are really going to miss her. She was a real favourite at the Bell House and a pleasure to have around. Happy retirement, Happy Diva. I'm honoured to have trained such a classy, talented and gutsy mare. The ultimate trier. Looking forward to some Mini Diva's in the future."

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