Five horses to watch at Cheltenham's November Meeting

Happy Diva is bidding to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup for the second year running.
Happy Diva is bidding to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup for the second year running.

Nick Seddon takes a look at the entries for this weekend's three-day November Meeting at Cheltenham, and picks out five horses to note... 

Easysland - David Cottin (Cheltenham 15:00, Friday)

Friday sees the return of the short but hugely intriguing Cross Country programme, in which the reigning Cross Country Chase hero Easysland will begin the defence of his crown. His 17-length demolition of Tiger Roll at the Festival in March felt like a changing of the guard in this division, and the six-year-old's lightly-raced profile means that he has the potential to dominate this sphere for many years to come. Tiger Roll will have plenty to say about that, of course, though the main goal for Gordon Elliott's is undoubtedly his bid to create history at next year's Grand National

Unlike the conditions race at the Festival, this is a handicap contest, meaning that Tiger Roll will have to give 4 lb to Easysland on Friday - something which could prove crucial for win purposes, and Easysland is an odds-on favourite at the time of writing as a consequence. It's all about Aintree of course for Tiger Roll, though it would be no surprise should the French raider also have a trip to Merseyside on his radar next spring.

The aforementioned pair dominate the market, but there are several interesting names set to line up, including the 2019 Welsh National winner Potters Corner, who will be making his first start for 322 days. Meanwhile, it could be worth taking a look at the veteran Kingswell Theatre each-way. The eleven-year-old was pulled-up at the Festival in March, but he is a regular in this sphere and will be able to take his chance off a mark that's 9 lb lower than when winning this race three years ago. That victory came on the back of an absence, and he could well run into a place at around the 33/1 mark.

Cheltenham 15:00
Kingswell Theatre silk

Kingswell Theatre (EW)

won

Fusil Raffles - Nicky Henderson (Cheltenham 13:40, Saturday)

The novice chasing scene is beginning to heat up nicely, and Saturday's November Novices' Chase will be of particular interest, considering that it was won by a subsequent Arkle Trophy winner in Put The Kettle On 12 months ago. Several intriguing novices look set to take their chance this time around, and Nicky Henderson will be hoping that Fusil Raffles can make up into a genuine Festival contender come March. The five-year-old has been pretty lightly-raced to date, but he's shown some smart form when making the racecourse, and has done very little wrong in his two starts over fences so far - winning on both occasions.

The latest of those successes came over course and distance at the October Meeting, and he looked in a different league to his three rivals that day, recording a nine and a half length success. Henderson believes that Fusil Raffles will stay two and a half miles in time, meaning his spring targets are rather up in the air at present, but there appears to be no reason to rush Fusil Raffles, and he'll set a strong standard in this Grade 2 contest based on what he's shown to date. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the Irish raider Zarkareva fares at this level. She arrives here after back-to-back wins over fences, with the latest of those coming at Grade 3 level at Punchestown last month. That form has a pretty solid look to it, and with good ground very much her forte, she will be a threat in receipt of a sizeable weight allowance from the rest of the field.

Happy Diva - Kerry Lee (Paddy Power Gold Cup, Saturday)

The feature of the meeting is Saturday's £130,000 Paddy Power Gold Cup, in which the hugely likeable mare Happy Diva will be bidding to defend her crown for the Kerry Lee team. Lee described the victory as the biggest of her career 12 months ago, and Happy Diva has produced some excellent performances since that success, including when finishing a fine second behind Simply The Betts in the Festival Plate here in March. If she is to win this for the second year running, she will have to do so off a mark that's 8 lb higher than 12 months ago, though she will arrive here fit having blown away the cobwebs at Wetherby last month.

Only five horses have managed that particular feat since the race's inception in 1960, however, and there are no shortage of dangers amongst the 17-strong list of entries. Each of Saint Sonnet, Mister Fisher, Al Dancer and Slate House deserve a second look, though Coole Cody could prove an interesting each-way alternative at 16/1. He's made an excellent start to his chasing career so far, winning once from three outings, and went down fighting when second behind the potentially smart Southfield Stone over course and distance last month. His mark of 137 looks a workable one, and it would be no surprise to see him on the premises for Evan Williams.

Paddy Power Gold Cup
Coole Cody silk

Coole Cody (EW)

won

Defi Du Seuil - Philip Hobbs (Cheltenham 14:25, Sunday)

Defi Du Seuil was unable to take advantage of what looked a good opportunity in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March, finishing fourth as a 5/2-on favourite behind Politologue, and his quest to regain control of the two-mile division begins in a red hot renewal of Sunday's Grade 2 Shloer Chase. We're set for a blockbuster line-up should all seven take their chance, though Defi Du Seuil still very much sets the standard based on what he showed last term, which included victory in this race and wins in back-to-back Grade 1 contests.

There are a multitude of high-class challengers, however, beginning with Sceau Royal, who will arrive here fit. He was beaten soundly by Defi Du Seuil in last season's Tingle Creek, but is one of just two runners  with race fitness on his side, and will line up on the back of an impressive victory in last week's Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. The other runner who will be fit is Rouge Vif, who looked a Graded performer when tearing to victory in a handicap contest last term. 

Meanwhile, two winners of the Arkle Trophy are set to line up, beginning with Put The Kettle On, who has won on both of her trips to Cheltenham to date. That Arkle form didn't look the strongest that we've ever seen, however, and she'll need more here, while the 2019 winner Duc Des Genievres will be hoping to bounce back on his first start for Paul Nicholls. He'd be a serious threat if repeating the form of that 13-length rout, but he hasn't been in the same form since.

Completing the field is Riders Onthe Storm, who has shown his best form over two and a half miles but is a high-class performer at his best, while Forest Bihan has twice won at this level in the past. It should be a race to savour, but Defi Du Seuil still appeals as the best option. 

Shloer Chase
Defi Du Seuil silk

Defi Du Seuil

Pulled Up

Main Fact - David Pipe (Greatwood Hurdle, Sunday)

The Greatwood Hurdle is one of the trickiest Jumps puzzles to solve this side of Christmas, and we're set for another ultra-competitive renewal on Sunday. It's worth noting that only three horses have carried more than 11 stone to victory since 2010, though in Main Fact the David Pipe team look to have a live chance. The seven-year-old has been in fine heart so far this year, winning all eight of his starts both on the Flat and over hurdles. He's been kept fit on the level this autumn, winning three staying handicaps on the trot, and it will be interesting to see how he fares off his new hurdling mark of 147, having recorded a 15-length success when last seen over timber at Uttoxeter in March. That success came with breathtaking ease, and there's every reason to think that he can go close off this kind of mark considering the heart he's in at the moment. It will be interesting to see whether Pipe takes advantage of young Fergus Gillard's claim - much like he did at the start of the year - and should he get the nod, Main Fact looks a good bet at around 6/1 to take this. 

Greatwood Hurdle
Main Fact silk

Main Fact

2021 Cheltenham Festival

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