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Lavelle only fears Penhill in Stayers' following Paisley Park's Cleeve romp

Ears pricked: Paisley Park (Aidan Coleman) out on his own after the last on his way to winning the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday
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Paisley Park, favourite for the Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle, has the Irish to beat in the Cheltenham Festival feature.

That is the view of his trainer Emma Lavelle after Saturday's impressive Cleeve Hurdle success, which the seven-year-old gelding took in his stride and saw him promoted to favourite, no better than 100-30 with Betfair on Sunday, for the Grade 1 on March 14.

"How could he not be made favourite?" asked Lavelle on Sunday, still amazed by the way Paisley Park idled and pricked his ears on the run-in yet still drew further clear of his field before winning by 12 lengths.

"I don't think there is anyone this side of the water who wasn't in the Cleeve on Saturday, and with last year's winner Penhill not having run this season he would have to come over in tip-top shape. Then Paisley Park would have a fight on his hands."

Emma Lavelle: "Paisley Park has always been a nice horse but he has just kept improving"
Lavelle, who has won twice at the Cheltenham Festival, most recently with Pause And Clause in the 2010 Martin Pipe, added: "We bought him as a three-year-old store. He has always been a nice horse but he has just kept improving.

"We thought he was well handicapped off a mark of 140 at the start of the season, but it was hard to ever imagine he could do what he did yesterday. He has got better and better and he takes very little out of himself in his races."

His fourth win of the season in Saturday's Grade 2 will see him leap into the 160s stratosphere for what Lavelle called "an extraordinary performance" considering he idled up the run-in. 

Fourteen lengths back in third was Black Op on his return to hurdles after a spell over fences, but trainer Tom George warned not to rule him out of calculations for the Stayers' Hurdle, for which he was a top-priced 20-1 on Sunday.

Black Op: "Cheltenham will be the big target now - that run will put him right," says trainer Tom George
George, who trains at Slad, 13 miles south west of Cheltenham, said: "We were pleased. That was his first proper run since April as he'd been running over fences and not jumping well, and they hadn't worked out for him. A hurdle race over three miles is probably the biggest test of fitness you can get, and they went a good gallop.

"Noel said he got tired turning for home, so that run will put him right. He should improve for it, but whether he'll improve enough to beat the winner I don't know.

"Cheltenham will be the big target now. He was second at the festival last year and we'll have a chat about whether he remains over hurdles or goes chasing after that."

George added: "As Yogi Breisner said, running over hurdles isn't detrimental for him, and he needs match practice. He may well be sent away for schooling before he goes out to summer grass, but we'll review the situation at the end of the season."

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We thought he was well handicapped off a mark of 140 at the start of the season but it was hard to ever imagine he could do what he did yesterday
E.W. Terms
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