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Al Dancer bids to give Nigel Twiston-Davies another success in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
The trainer took the £130,000 contest with Tipping Tim (1992), Imperial Commander (2008), Little Josh (2010) and Splash Of Ginge (2017).
This year's representative was fifth in the Arkle Novices’ Chase at The Festival and made a winning reappearance at Newton Abbot on October 11.
Twiston-Davies said: “Al Dancer is in good form and heads for the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.
“He has come out of his win at Newton Abbot in good form and we were pleased with that performance.
“We are looking forward to running him.”
Happy Diva tries to become the first consecutive winner of the November Meeting highlight for 26 years, while the Paul Nicholls-trained Saint Sonnet and Cheltenham Festival hero Simply The Betts are other key contenders.
Here is Mirror Racing's horse-by-horse guide:
1. /3547- Aso 20-1 *
Off the same mark as when beating Happy Diva on New Year's Day in 2019, the nine-time winner has his tenth run at the track.
Runner-up to Frodon in the Ryanair Chase that spring, he found life harder in graded races last season.
Connections reached for blinkers in last year's renewal in March, they failed to have an impact and he trailed home last of the seven finishers.
Has plenty of ability if on a going day for a stable creeping into form, yet is vulnerable to younger rivals off top weight.
2. 11211- Simply The Betts 5-1
Gavin Sheehan has recovered from injury in time to partner Simply The Betts
Always front rank when winning the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate at the 2020 Festival, a win that can be upgraded as his challengers came from mid to rear.
Gavin Sheehan has shrugged off injury concerns to make the ride and his mount is now 8lb higher than his recent course heroics.
As well as defying the closers, the seven-year-old was able to pull out extra after making a mistake at the final fence – the sign of a very smart performer.
His trainer has some excellent horses for this season and it's entirely possible the handicapper hasn't quite caught up with this one yet.
3. 72114- Mister Fisher 5-1
Mister Fisher (right)
(Image: Getty Images)
Beaten just four-and-a-quarter lengths in the Marsh Novices' Chase, he is closely matched with Al Dancer on their Grade 2 form from Doncaster.
On his first start in a handicap chase, he should appreciate a sound gallop on the old course, which is considered to be more of a speed test.
He stays the Paddy Power trip well and should be in contention for in-form Nicky Henderson.
However, his powerful stable has had plenty of fancied runners in this race and not won it since 2003.
4. 2425-1 Al Dancer 9-1
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies will have high hopes for this consistent type.
Fifth in the Arkle, when he was outpaced after the third last fence, he appreciated the step up in trip to 2m 5f on his seasonal reappearance.
Master Tommytucker was in second that day and he has since won a match race, so the form has been franked to some extent.
A strong traveller, Al Dancer should appreciate a good gallop, but he might not find quite so much off the bridle as some of his other key rivals at the distance.
His yard has also not hit top form yet, so there are a few question marks.
5. F11P6- Slate House 10-1
Looked the winner when falling in this last year and went on to win in Grade 1 company at Kempton.
That race worked out perfectly on the tactics front and he's 5lb higher now which looks fair.
The eight-year-old goes well fresh and Colin Tizzard has had plenty of winners at this meeting in recent years.
Has to be on the shortlist and any rain would enhance his claims.
6. 1242-5 Happy Diva 11-1
Bids to become the sixth dual winner and the first to take back-to-back renewals since Bradbury Star in 1994.
Kerry Lee's stable star won by a neck from Brelan D'As off a mark of 143 and ended her season on a high with a second behind Simply The Betts at the Cheltenham Festival.
Ridden by Richard Patrick, who is closing in on losing 3lb his claim, she is now off 151.
Can be relied upon to put in her best effort for a yard in better form now.
7. 11/PF Siruh Du Lac 12-1
Tipped up when just about leading when trying to win the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate again in March.
Ran no sort of race in this last year when well-fancied, he could be revitalised by a switch to his current yard, historically known for pointing horses at this race.
Cannot be ruled out.
8. P0226- Spiritofthegames 14-1
Turns up for most of the big handicaps and took the runner-up spot twice on the new course.
Without a win though since October 2018 and likely to find quite a few of these in front of him at the line.
9. 56317- Saint Sonnet 9-2
Just the ten starts for the five-year-old, a recruit from France for owner Colm Donlon, who enjoyed success in this with Caid Du Berlais six years ago.
Seventh in the Marsh Novices' Chase behind Samcro, he shaped well there thrown into the deep end after one prior run in Britain.
On the heels of the leaders at the second last, he didn't have the legs to go with them on the run to the line.
After a summer at Ditcheat, he will be primed for this which gives optimism for him turning around the Festival deficit with another leading contender Mister Fisher (fourth), as well as the weight turnaround.
10. 1115-4 Domaine De L'Isle 40-1
A massive improver for Sean Curran, up 20lb in three runs last season.
Relished the soft conditions then and handicapper still has him on his highest ever mark.
Might find the front runners going quick enough for him here and has probably done all of his winning for now.
11. 5/U28- Brelan D'As 16-1
Brelan D'As (left) finished a close second to Happy Diva in this race last year
A bit in and out, but was only just beaten by Happy Diva last year.
Third in the Grand Annual previously, he is clearly very capable, but has found others finishing a little bit stronger up the hill.
Respected for a team firing on all cylinders.
12. /2520- Kauto Riko 40-1
A star for connections and second in the Peterborough Chase to Top Notch on seasonal debut.
Has come up short in handicap company at Cheltenham though and faces some quality opposition here.
13. P-2241 Fidux 20-1
Only raced at Cheltenham twice and has shown most of his form in the summer.
Raised in the weights for his Market Rasen success, he seems to appreciate a flat track and there are better jumpers in the field.
14. 17U2F- Pinson Du Rheu 66-1
A three-time scorer at Auteuil in France, the nine-year-old has his first outing for Alexandra Dunn.
Seems to enjoy plenty of cut in the ground plus a longer trip, so this is unlikely to play to his strengths.
15. 14/P-3 The Russian Doyen 1 8-1
Shaped well on his first run for 347 days at Fontwell, when the winner made all the running.
Lightly-raced in recent seasons, he led the 2019 Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase field at the third last and eventually finished fourth behind A Plus Tard.
Looks feasibly handicapped – a lively longshot.
16. 4P-122 Coole Cody 16-1
Was given a sight of the fences behind Southfield Stone last time, a horse with graded form on the book.
Coole Cody's jumping was mostly excellent that day and he raced with the winner for a good while, before finding him a length-and-a-half too good at the finish.
Just 1lb higher than when winning over hurdles at the course in 2017, on soft ground, he looks an improved horse this season for a trainer who likes to target this race.
Buywise finished placed in it a couple of times and this year's contender has strong claims.
17. /F22-2 Sky Pirate 20-1
Owned by Martin Tedham who sponsors O'Neill's yard, the seven-year-old warmed up for this with a second at Wetherby.
He wore a tongue tie there and has been given a wind operation.
Hard to win with and has an extra 2lb to carry for his most recent run.
VERDICT: A typically competitive renewal and a case can be made for plenty.
Simply The Betts is the one to beat with his excellent course form but his price reflects that, while Saint Sonnet is the type of horse his stable excels with.
At bigger prices, Coole Cody takes the eye off just 10st 5lb for Evan Williams and Tom O'Brien.
Runners with 11 stone or less have done well in recent years and he gained valuable course experience last time, when chasing home a rival now rated 146.
Williams mentioned he had this race his mind for the 2017 course winner, just 1lb higher in Saturday's race.
He has found his form again for his new connections and receives lumps of weight from several of the well-fancied runners.
The forecast rain won't inconvenience him either.
*Best industry odds at the time of publication, subject to change