Stayers' Hurdle lowdown: all you need to know as Paisley Park goes for glory
Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1) |3m, 4yo+| ITV/RTV
If it's a feelgood story you're looking for, Paisley Park is your horse. After a season characterised by a systematic rise through the handicap ratings, he has earned the mantle of Britain’s banker for the week– and with wins in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle and the Cleeve here at Cheltenham already in the bag, it's for good reason.
The rapidly improving seven-year-old is owned by Andrew Gemmell, a mad-keen sports fan whose enthusiasm for life is infectious. Being born blind has never deterred him from enjoying the biggest sporting events worldwide and he stands on the cusp of a thrill so few experience, with a favourite for one of the festival’s championship races set to carry his colours.
"Paisley Park is a cool dude and thinks it’s great to have all these people coming to watch him," said trainer Emma Lavelle. "It’s been a wonderful way to showcase the yard. Now I just hope it’s all been worth it."
His preparation has been without complication, according to his trainer, with perhaps the quantity of rivals he faces the main concern now.
She added: "He seems in really good form and we just need some luck in running. He’s pretty straightforward through his race and you just don’t want to get traffic problems. I want to come away thinking we’ve had a fair crack.
"He’s had such a great preparation and winning at Cheltenham last time was important, to put any doubt about the track to bed. He’s won on soft at Ascot so we can go into the Stayers’ with a bit of confidence."
ProsRiding the crest of a wave, he's had the perfect season and is the improving horse in the race
ConsFaces a fresh wave of challengers from Ireland, many of whom are battle-hardened at this level
Paisley Park might well be one for in-running punters. He's won his last four but has traded at highs of 6.8 at Aintree, 130 at Haydock, 14 at Ascot and, despite winning the Cleeve by a dozen lengths, still managed to reach a high of 9.2. When he won a novice hurdle at Hereford in 2017, he hit 46 in running.
Faugheen out to create history
Faugheen will be attempting to become the first Champion Hurdle winner to add the Stayers’ to his CV, and the 11-year-oldis also bidding to be the first horse of his age to win the event since Crimson Embers in 1986.
His trainer Willie Mullins, who also runs Bacardys, Bapaume and Coquin Mans, is on the trail of a third consecutive win in the race after Nichols Canyon in 2017 and Penhill a year ago.
Faugheen is a Grade 1 winner at the trip having beaten Penhill by 13 lengths in the Champion Stayers Hurdle at last year's Punchestown festival. He was last seen in action at Leopardstown's Christmas festival, when he took a heavy fall two out when chasing down Apple's Jade.
Ruby Walsh, who won this racefour times on Big Buck’s and again on Nichols Canyon, said: "I think he has a great chance. He’s in great form and I’m delighted with the way he's progressed since Christmas.
"I’ve no worries about him staying, no worries about the track, and I’m really looking forward to riding him."
Fans of leading Gold Cup contender Presenting Percy will be hoping for a big performance from Bapaume, who ran trainer Pat Kelly's star chaser to a length and a quarter in the Galmoy Hurdle overthis trip at Gowran Park in January.
Bacardys, a faller at the last when looking set for a first-three placing in this race 12 months ago, reverts to hurdles after two runs over fences.
Coquin Mans, whose form this season has been disappointing, completes the Mullins quartet.
Faugheen pros Class act at his best, a previous festival winner and a Grade 1 winner over this trip
Faugheen consComes into the race after a nasty fall, which is hardly the ideal preparation
Harrington chasing first Stayers' win with last year's runner-up
Jessica Harrington has enjoyed many big days at the festival and numbers a Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and two Champion Chases among her triumphs.
But she has yet to land the Stayers’ Hurdle and hopes of landing a first success rest with last year’s plucky runner-up Supasundae.
Winner of the Coral Cup two years ago, Supasundae has raced three times this season, most recently finding Apple's Jade 16 lengths too good in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month.
The nine-year-old has high class form over a range of distances and, while he has never won over this trip, has plenty of creditable efforts over three miles to his name.
His rider Robbie Power, also seeking a first win in the race, said: "Supasundae was second to Penhill last year and there's no Penhill to worry about this time. Paisley Park could be a tough nut to crack but, apart from him, it looks wide open.
"Our horse is very consistent and always runs his race. I think he's sure to go close."
ProsHas maintained consistent form over different distances over the past few seasons and has performed wellhere in the past. Should be fresher than many of his rivals
ConsDespite some solid placed efforts he has never won over the trip
Top Notch switches to hurdles
He would have had a competitive chance at least in the Ryanair Chase but connections of Top Notch are hoping a switch to hurdles can help thrust him to a first festival success.
A narrow second in the JLT Novices’ Chase two years ago, Top Notch came up short against Paisley Park in the Long Walk in December but that was following a seven-month absence and he looked close to his best when soaring to success over fences at Kempton last time.
"Running in the Long Walk was a bit of an experiment," said trainer Nicky Henderson. "It was the first time we'd tried him over three miles and, considering we knew he needed it, he ran an excellent race.He's one of the triers of this world.
"He puts heart and soul into his races but because he lacks scope jumping fences is hard work. That means he also has to exert a lot of energy. I think he'll find skipping around over hurdles much easier."
Black Op gunning for glory
Black Op is another who has had a campaign over fences aborted in favour of a tilt at the Stayers’ Hurdle and a wet start to the week has only enhanced the claims of last year’s Ballymore runner-up.
Beaten less than three lengths by Samcro at the meeting last year, Black Op followed up at the highest level at Aintree last April.
He travelled strongly when switched back to hurdles after two runs over fences in the Cleeve last time, before fading into third behind Paisley Park.
Trainer Tom George said: "He hadn’t run badly over fences but it was a proper run over hurdles last time and that should have sharpened him up. He's got a bit to find but hopefully he’s improved. The ground won’t worry him and he’s in very good form."
Petit Mouchoir back for more
Petit Mouchoir will be making his fourth appearance at the festival, where he ran third in the 2017 Champion Hurdle before filling the same position in last year's Arkle.
The eight-year-old finished a remote third behind Apple's Jade in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month and takes a big step up in trip.
Trainer Henry de Bromhead said: "We're entering the unknown, trying him over three miles for the first time. If he does stay it will open a lot of doors. He's in very good form."
Storm heads Tizzard duo
Colin Tizzard memorably landed the race with Thistlecrack three years ago and saddles Kilbricken Storm and West Approach as he looks for a repeat.
"Kilbricken Storm is the forgotten horse and won the Albert Bartlett last year," said Tizzard. "He had a good racecourse gallop at Wincanton two or three weeks ago and will love the ground.
"West Approach is creeping in without a mention as well, but he's been second to Paisley Park twice and we've made a fair bit of use of him.
"We're going to sit him in and try to ride him more conservativelyto have a go at Paisley Park and the others with one run at the last."
Last year's third back for another crack
Wholestone is among a number of big-priced runners but ran a big race to finish third last year and connections hope he can pick up some prize-money again.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: "He was a good third last year and has been a little bit forgotten about this year.
"He made a bad mistake in the Cleeve that ended his race, but at his best he’d be a good hope for a place."
Sam Spinner showing old sparkle
Sam Spinner disappointed in fifth when favourite for the race last year but at least showed more spark in the Cleeve last time.
"He’s in great shape at home and his schooling has been great," said trainerJedd O’Keeffe. "The Cleeve was the first time he’s completed a race since Aintree last year so we think he'll come on a little bit for that.
"We know we’ve got a lot of ground to make up on Paisley Park and are realistic, but the rain they've had therewill help."
Jockey Joe Colliver had been due to be at Harrogate Magistrates' Court on Thursday on a drink driving charge, but is able to ride with his legal team making the case for a change of date.
Place claims for lively outsiders
Warren Greatrex and Nick Giffordhope topick up some place prize-moneywithKeeper Hill and The Mighty Don respectively.
"Keeper Hill has got plenty to find but there’s plenty of question marks about a lot of them and you never know," said Greatrex. "He likes Cheltenham and we’d be chuffed if he can pick up a bit of prize-money."
On The Mighty Don, Gifford said: "He’d have been top weight in the Pertemps and up near the top of the handicap in the Coral Cup, and we wanted a level playing field rather than giving weight away.
"On his very best form he might be able to nick a place. That’s what we’re aiming for."
Yanworth has questions to answer after failing to complete on his return from a long absence last time and trainer Alan King reaches for first-time blinkers.
"I don’t know what to expect," admitted the trainer. "We found nothing wrong with him after his disappointing return at Haydock and his work has been ordinary since. We’ve put blinkers on this time and hope they'll sharpen him up."
Unbeaten this season and hugely impressive in the Cleeve Hurdle here most recently,Paisley Parkis a worthy favourite. This fast-improving stayer has all the right credentials and can extend his winning run. It's asking a lot for Faugheen to win this race aged 11 but he's sublime on his day and looks the selection's biggest threat if turning up in peak form. The consistent Supasundae needs those two rivals to underperform if he's to bag a first win over three miles, while some of the others are held by Paisley Park on recent clashes with that progressive rival. If there is a fly in the ointment, it could be Kilbricken Storm who won last year's Albert Bartlett and remains unexposed in staying hurdle races.
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