©Healy Racing Photos
Emma Lavelle feels Paisley Park is in the peak of his powers as he bids to confirm his position as the number one three-miler when he lines up for the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Thursday.
The seven-year-old has won all his four races this season, progressing from handicaps to Grade One success in the JLT Hurdle at Ascot in December and the Cleeve Hurdle on Trials’ Day at Cheltenham in January, when he romped home by 12 lengths from West Approach.
“Everything has gone as well as it could possibly go. Now it’s all about just hoping we get a bit of luck in running. I’m really happy with him and we’ll see what happens,” said Lavelle.
“He looks fantastic. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him. He couldn’t go there any better than how he is at home.
“Hopefully we’ll get some luck. He’s been brilliant his season. It’s not too much of a hope he can keep it going for Thursday.”
Lavelle believes Paisley Park will not be worried about the ground unless it went really heavy.
“He’s pretty easy with the ground. He won on soft ground at Ascot, it was good to soft when he won the Cleeve,” said the Marlborough handler.
“I don’t think he’s particularly bothered one way or the other. Probably if it was very heavy it might not play to all his strengths, but hopefully he’ll handle whatever is put to him.”
Faugheen will bring the house down if he can add the Stayers’ Hurdle to his Champion Hurdle success of four years ago.
At the age of 11 the Willie Mullins-trained superstar is in the twilight of his career, but connections are hopeful the fire still burns bright.
“For Faugheen to win another race at Cheltenham would be fantastic,” said Mullins of Ruby Walsh’s mount.
“After he fell at Christmas, initially I thought that would be him and he’d never run again, but we were amazed how quick his recovery was.
“He was very sore around his shoulder, in his neck and hind quarters and I thought we’d never get him back so it’s a testament to him that he’s back.”
Patrick Mullins partners Bacardys — a final flight faller in last year’s renewal. Bapaume and Coquin Mans complete the Closutton quartet.
Mullins jnr said: “I’m delighted to be getting the leg back over Bacardys. I think he would have been third last year, I don’t think this year’s race is any better and I think he’s overpriced.
“Bapaume has run well here before and has a good each-way chance, and Coquin Mans could run well if he puts his best foot forward. I think going back left-handed will be a help to him.”
Supasundae was only beaten two lengths when second 12 months ago and that was the last time he ran over three miles.
After ending last term with victory in the Punchestown Hurdle over two miles, Jessica Harrington’s charge has finished second in all his three starts this winter, with two coming behind Apple’s Jade.
Harrington had thought of heading to the Champion Hurdle this time, but in the end decided to try the Stayers’ again.
“Supasundae is in good form. He has been such a consistent horse for us and when you look at his record, he only ever runs in Grade Ones,” said the County Kildare handler.
“He has won at the highest level and has also been placed on multiple occasions in Grade One races, so he has been a privilege to train.
“At the beginning of the year, I thought he would be a Champion Hurdle horse as I thought last year’s renewal was quite weak, but Apple’s Jade and Laurina look very talented this year, so it has helped make us lean towards the Stayers’ Hurdle.”
Nicky Henderson chose this race for Top Notch over the Ryanair Chase and he showed he would not be out of place when third to Paisley Park in the JLT Hurdle in December, after which he won a Listed chase at Kempton.
“He hates vaccinations and we gave him one and he took a long time to get over it. We gave him a prep race in the Long Walk and he actually ran a very good race as we thought he would just need the run,” said Henderson.
“It is what made us switch (owners) Simon Munir and Isaac Souede’s horses round a little bit. He is a Ryanair horse, but he is not a Grade One horse over fences. He is very little, but very tough.
“You could see how jumping fences he has to put so much energy into jumping them and our theory is that he will use less energy coming back to hurdles in the jumping department and that will save him for the finish.”
Black Op was clear-cut second to Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle last year and is back over the smaller obstacles after a spell chasing did not quite got to plan.
His trainer Tom George was pleased with Black Op’s first effort back over hurdles when a staying-on third to Paisley Park in the Cleeve.
“His chasing didn’t go quite right, but in hindsight looking back on it he was only beaten seven lengths by Lostintranslation and Defi Du Seuil when his jumping wasn’t good and he took several fences with him,” said the Slad handler.
“We ran him back over hurdles and that was his first proper race of the season and I’d like to think he’s come on a lot since then. He’s got a bit to find with Paisley Park, but we should see further improvement.”
Sam Spinner went off 9-4 favourite 12 months ago when fifth to Penhill, but returns one of the outsiders after a season that has seen him unseat his rider twice before showing some improvement when fourth to Paisley Park in the Cleeve.
Trainer Jedd O’Keeffe reports all to be well with his stable star — but knows he faces a big task in turning that form around.
“Everything is brilliant. The horse did his last piece of work on Tuesday morning. He schooled on Friday which went great. He’s in tip-top nick,” said the Leyburn handler.
“He’s as good as we can get him and we’re entirely happy apart from the other 17 runners.
“There’s not the same pressure as there was last year, so we can probably go and enjoy it a bit more. I still he’s capable of a very big run, but it will take a leap of faith to believe we can beat Paisley Park.
“I like to think he has a fair chance of getting in the first four.”
O’Keeffe confirmed Joe Colliver is set to continue his association with Sam Spinner despite facing a court case after being charged with drink driving, a hearing that had originally been scheduled for raceday.
“As far as I know everything is fine. I haven’t heard any different. Joe has assured me he is free to ride,” said O’Keeffe.
Colin Tizzard last claimed the race back in 2016 with Thistlecrack, and the Milborne Port handler could see those same silks of owners Jon and Heather Snook carried to victory in this year’s renewal by West Approach.
Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, said: “He is in good form and his last two runs behind Paisley Park have been strong, as he has beaten the rest of the field both times. He will certainly handle conditions.
“We will keep it straightforward with him, and Scu (Tom Scudamore) knows him inside out, but we do like our horses being handy.
“The race is more competitive than his last two runs, but they have been solid efforts and I’d like to think he has an each-way chance.”
Tizzard will also saddle Kilbricken Storm who will make his first start over hurdles since landing last year’s Albert Bartlett, after having his chasing career put on hold.
Tizzard junior said: “He suffered a hairline fracture earlier in the season and we decided to come back down this route.
“His hurdles form, winning the Albert Bartlett last year and his run at Punchestown, is strong. He is the slightly forgotten horse.
“The owners were keen to come back over hurdles and have a go at the Stayers’ as we can go back chasing whenever we want to.
“We were never going to be able to get a run in him timing-wise before this, that is why we took him for a gallop two weeks ago at Wincanton as he stood in his box throughout December. He goes well fresh and should be fit.”