Paisley Park heads to Cheltenham seeking a fourth Dahlbury Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle success with connections of the 11-year-old confident his spark has been reignited.
The Emma Lavelle-trained fan-favourite has won the last three renewals of the Grade Two contest, although he missed out in 2021 when the meeting was abandoned.
Despite his advancing years, Paisley Park has looked as good as ever this term – finishing a neck runner-up to Champ in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, which will go down as arguably one of the races of the season, before earning a third Long Walk success at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Barry Fenton, Lavelle’s husband and assistant, feels the Andrew Gemmell-owned Oscar gelding is in ripe form as he takes on six rivals in a three-mile contest he has made his own.
“It just feels like the spark is back,” said Fenton. “When he was really well before, he would just get better with each run.
“Touch wood, he came out of Kempton really well and hasn’t missed a beat since.”
Winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2019, and third in the last two renewals to Flooring Porter, Paisley Park will again take in the Grade One contest on March 16 if all goes well.
Fenton added: “It was a good performance in the Stayers’ Hurdle last year and I think he probably wasn’t at his brightest.
“This year, even before I was saddling him at Kempton, he seemed really bright and well in himself, and he has kind of shown that at home.
“He is very willing at home, whereas last year he was making heavy weather of it a little bit.”
Paisley Park has earned a tremendous following thanks to his consistency and ability to claim victory from the jaws of defeat.
Fenton admits the yard are blessed to have such a flag-bearer, saying: “I think it is massive for the yard and for racing fans to have a horse like this.
“The longer it goes on, the more special it becomes. To think he is going back to try to win a fourth Cleeve Hurdle – you just don’t get horses like that.
“He is a credit to himself. He is just one of those horses who comes back year in, year out and keeps trying for us. He is a very special horse.”
Winner of the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last April, Gelino Bello returns to the smaller obstacles after winning two of three novice chases for Paul Nicholls.
He fell four out in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and the champion trainer is keen to see how he fares back over hurdles.
“He just didn’t jump as well as he could have done at Kempton the other day. I think there were some shadows down the back straight and he lost confidence the first circuit. He was still going well when he fell at the last down the back,” said Nicholls.
“I think a run over hurdles won’t do him any harm and it might just sharpen him up a bit. If he went and won or ran very well, I’ve got the option of going for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with him. It is a bit of a fact-finding mission.
“This weekend will tell us a lot, however he is not going there for a day out, he is going there and he will be doing his damnedest to win.
“If we are going to go for a Stayers’ Hurdle, we need to beat Paisley Park or run him very close.”
Jeremy Scott hopes Dashel Drasher can indicate he stays the trip, having chased home Marie’s Rock in the Relkeel Hurdle at the same track last time.
The 10-year-old has done much of his winning on flatter tracks at Ascot, Newbury and Aintree, but on ratings, he is most likely to put it up to Paisley Park.
Scott said: “He is very well and we’re looking forward to the race. It is competitive in terms of numbers and theoretically, with the weight allowances, we are second-highest rated, but it depends whether or not he stays three miles wholly around Cheltenham.
“I didn’t think he’s given any indication he wouldn’t, so I don’t see why he won’t run well.
“He ran well there the other day and hopefully he will give a good account and it will dictate where we go from there.”
The Somerset handler knows Paisley Park will take some beating if he returns in the same form as when winning last year.
He added: “I watched Paisley Park’s race last year when he got left at the start and I felt it was a phenomenal performance – and it was run at a very solid gallop, so he is going to take an awful lot of beating.
“The joy of National Hunt racing is that people latch on to horses like him – it’s great for the sport.”
Lord Accord is another who returns from chasing, having finished ninth to Le Milos in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury. Though the outsider of the sextet, he is guaranteed to stay the trip.
His trainer, Neil Mulholland, said: “He’s been freshened up since Newbury and he’s fresh and well at the moment. But he has nicer targets in the spring and we did the same with The Druids Nephew – he ran in the Cleeve Hurdle before he won the Ultima and that is probably where Lord Accord will go.
“He handled Cheltenham when he won there in November, so we know he likes the track. We’ll give him a spin round over hurdles and see how we go.”
Select any odd to add a bet