Mark Howard reckons now is the time to back Dickie Diver for Cheltenham Festival glory - check out the top form expert's latest column.
Gordon Elliott has won the National Hunt Chase at the Festival on four occasions during the last ten years, including with subsequent dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll in 2017.
The Irishman handles the current ante-post favourite for this year’s renewal, too, namely Galvin. A second-season novice, the seven year old racked up a four-timer between July and October and will arrive in March with plenty of experience under his belt.
Runner-up to Imperial Aura in the novices’ handicap chase at the Festival last term, he will be fresh too, and (pending amateur rider authorisation for this race by mid-March) is set to be partnered for the first time in public by crack amateur Jamie Codd, who will be seeking his fourth win in the race.
Despite the fact the Gold Well gelding has yet to race beyond three miles, his dam won the Durham National over three and a half miles for Peter Bowen in 2007.
There is every possibility Evan Williams will run his Welsh National winner Secret Reprieve in the three miles, six furlong event.
The Flemensfirth gelding, who has raced half a dozen times over fences, made a mockery of his rating of 134 at Chepstow as he overcame his lack of experience to beat seventeen rivals by upwards of three lengths.
Stamina certainly isn’t an issue for the seven year old, but his connections have yet to reveal whether he heads to the Festival or is entered in the Grand National at Aintree instead.
Nicky Henderson has trained 68 Festival winners but the National Hunt Chase doesn’t feature on his illustrious CV.
Sky Bet Chase victor Ok Corral was a leading fancy a couple of years ago, but he failed to fire and was pulled up behind Le Breuil.
He belongs to JP McManus and the legendary owner is also responsible for the lightly-raced DICKIE DIVER.
An eight year old, who has only raced a handful of times during his career, he was an easy winner of his only Irish point-to-point for Michael Goff before being acquired by the Martinstown team for £210,000 in early 2018.
A high-class novice hurdler during his first season with the champion trainer, he won at Chepstow before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Set plenty to do there, he stayed on well behind Minella Indo and Allaho. Five lengths behind him in fifth was Lisnagar Oscar, who returned 12 months later to plunder the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Unfortunately, Dickie Diver missed the whole of last season but there were plenty of positives to be taken from his return to action at Newbury over Christmas.
Contesting a two miles, six furlong novices’ handicap chase off a mark of 141, he was fresh during the early stages but jumped proficiently and kept on nicely in the closing stages.
Beaten seven and a half lengths by Paint The Dream, Aidan Coleman’s mount was conceding seven pounds to the race-fit winner.
The plan was for Dickie Diver to return to action in the Grade 2 novices’ chase at Warwick last Saturday – the aforementioned Ok Corral won the same event in 2019 – but a dirty scope ruled him out.
Therefore, he requires more chasing experience and will hopefully be reappearing shortly. A return to three miles-plus will be an advantage and so, too, is the likelihood he will be ridden by Derek O’Connor at the Festival – he has rode Chicago Grey (2011) and Minella Rocco (2016) to victory in the National Hunt Chase.
JP McManus has won the race five times and, in Dickie Diver, he has another live candidate. Available at 16/1 with bet365 and William Hill, there is also the option of taking the 12/1 (NRNB) with Paddy Power.
His Albert Bartlett form is the strongest on offer.