Kerry Lee: Not long now until Cheltenham!

Happy Diva was a brilliant winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup back in November.
Happy Diva was a brilliant winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup back in November.

In the latest edition of her exclusive column on HorseRacing.net, Kerry Lee looks ahead of next week’s Cheltenham Festival, and offers an update on her star mare Happy Diva…

After all of the many months of build up, there’s not long to go now!

There’s always a great feeling when the first confirmation day for Cheltenham comes around. There are just five days to go and counting until the greatest show on turf, and fingers crossed we are set for a Cheltenham Festival which suffers zero interruptions from the current outbreak of coronavirus.

With any luck the relevant health authorities can get a stranglehold on the issue and ensure as few people as possible are affected, but in the meantime we continue as usual at the yard, doing our best to control the factors within our grasp and run as well as possible for the good of both horses and owners 

It's obviously concerning from a sporting angle to see the likes of Serie A football in Italy as well Six Nations rugby having to make changes, while the looming threat to the Olympics in Japan would be a real blow. 

Meanwhile, in our corner of North Herefordshire it’s all systems go for our stable star Happy Diva…

She continues to thrive at home as we get her ready for her assignment in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate a week on Thursday (16.10). The final piece of hard work is done and schooling preparations were completed this morning, so it’s a case of a smooth run required both to Cheltenham and during the race. She’s a brilliant mare to have in training, and it would be great if she could go and put the icing on the cake for her owners by winning at the Festival as well. 

She could be joined by Storm Control, an improving seven-year-old, who is currently number 29 on the list of entries for the penultimate race on Tuesday's opening card, the listed Northern Trust Company Novices' Handicap Chase (16.50). 'Storm' won handsomely at Doncaster just before Christmas and has had valid excuses for running below that level the last twice.

It'll be touch and go to see whether he squeezes into the final field at Cheltenham, plus he has options at other tracks - including an entry at Hereford this coming Saturday (16.05) - but his owners are fun loving and ambitious and would leap at the chance to have a crack at a big prize at Cheltenham if it looks as though we're going to creep into the final field for the Festival option. Watch this space!

In other news, a belated welcome back to the consummate professional which is the champion jockey Richard Johnson.  

The fact that he was able to pick up four winners from his first five rides since being off for just 37 days with a broken arm made us all feel like he'd never been away, and although he's got a gap of 19 winners to try and make up on Brian Hughes in the next few weeks, if anyone can, it's him. 

Based just down the road from me in our part of the world, Richard is a giant of the sport and won't be giving up his jockeys' title lightly, of that you can be certain. He's as hungry and driven now as he was 20 years ago. He's ridden multiple winners for both myself and my dad down the years, including a hat-trick of Grade 2 chases on our stable favourite, the evergreen and much loved Top Gamble.

Remarkably those successes came in three different countries, via victories at Ayr, Newbury and Fairyhouse. Great days all of them and we are always happy to have him on our side. Let's hope both men stay fit and injury free and we get to see a great tussle for the title right up until the final day.   

Last but not least, we’ve got to take a quick look at the Cheltenham Festival, and what’s shaping up into a stellar renewal of the Champion Chase

Altior is the one that they’ve all got to beat, but I think I’d look elsewhere this year - and I quite like the look of Lady Buttons if she turns up. I know they want to go for the Champion Chase - she was fourth in the Mares’ race last year - so why not have a crack? 

She just pipped us at Doncaster at the end of last year, literally by a nostril, and her owners and trainer are all fun loving people. They’ve really put their heart and soul behind it, and with a 7 lb sex allowance you never know. I think that two miles is probably her trip, so why not?

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