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Paisley Park in perfect place as latest Cheltenham challenge looms

Emma Lavelle hopes Paisley Park will be benefited by a full crowd at Cheltenham as he prepares for an attempt to regain his crown in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

The much-loved bay has been a constant presence in the division since the 2018-19 season, when he was unbeaten in five runs and capped a superb term with victory at the Festival in the long-distance hurdle highlight.

The following campaign he was unable to hold on to his title after finishing seventh behind Lisnagar Oscar when suffering from a later-diagnosed heart issue, but he recovered the season after to tussle with Philip Hobbs’ top stayer Thyme Hill in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle and Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle – with each horse taking a race apiece.

His 2021 Festival run ended in a third-placed finish behind Flooring Porter and he began the current campaign with a string of further third-placed runs in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby, the Long Distance Hurdle and the Long Walk Hurdle.

A return to Cheltenham for the Cleeve Hurdle, an event he had won twice previously, ended in a dramatic triumph as he looked ready to refuse to start as the tapes went up but was eventually cajoled by Aidan Coleman and remarkably inched his way into the race to prevail by three and a quarter lengths.

Paisley Park winning a third Cleeve Hurdle
Paisley Park winning a third Cleeve Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

Next week he will head back to his favourite track in a bid reassert himself at the head of the staying hierarchy, and is reportedly in fine fettle ahead of the meeting.

“Touch wood he’s in really good form, he’s done everything we could have wanted from him up until this point,” said Lavelle.

“Aidan’s in tomorrow (Tuesday) to give him a pop over a hurdle and everything’s gone well, we’ll just keep all of our fingers crossed that he can continue in that vein all the way to Cheltenham.”

Paisley Park has started as the favourite for the past three runnings of the Grade One feature, but this time around he looks unlikely to head the market as Flooring Porter, Klassical Dream, Thyme Hill and Champ are all at shorter prices.

“It’s lovely to have a favourite because they’re the favourite on their form going in to it, but at the same time now we can just go there and enjoy it,” Lavelle said.

Andrew Gemmell, owner of Paisley Park (left), and jockey Aidan Coleman after winning the 2019 Stayers' Hurdle
Andrew Gemmell, owner of Paisley Park (left), and jockey Aidan Coleman after winning the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“He’s been such a star and his last run proved he still has the ability, we go there hopeful and just wanting to enjoy it.”

Lavelle’s stable star is owned by Andrew Gemmell, a popular and dedicated figure in the sport who was, like all owners, unable to watch his horse in action last season due to Covid-enforced restrictions at the track.

Gemmell will be in attendance this time, however, along with a full-strength crowd that Lavelle hopes will boost the chances of Paisley Park.

“I think for Paisley it’s a positive, he loves the crowds and it gets his blood up,” she said.

“The fact that the crowds are there again will be a big plus for him.”

The Lavelle team will have a further handful of Cheltenham contenders across the week, with Eclair Surf and Red Rookie the only doubts from the entries the yard has made.

Red Rookie winning at Hereford
Red Rookie winning at Hereford (David Davies/PA)

Red Rookie is in both the Arkle and the Grand Annual and it is the latter race he may line up for if conditions prove to be soft enough at Prestbury Park.

“We’d look at the Grand Annual if we were going to look at anything for him, but he needs proper soft ground so the rain would need to start falling for us to think about running him,” said Lavelle.

“I think he’s very well handicapped, but there is a balance between being well handicapped and not having enough experience.

“We will make a very considered decision as to whether we run him or not, there is an option to go to Ascot a week later so I think the weather will dictate what we do with him.”

Top Dog, who has a Listed bumper win to his name, will take his chance in a hot renewal of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Top Dog (black silks) winning the Best Odds On The Betfair Exchange National Hunt Flat Race
Top Dog (black silks) winning the Best Odds On The Betfair Exchange National Hunt Flat Race (Steven Paston/PA)

“Top Dog will run in the bumper. He came out of Newbury really well, he’s clearly got a big engine but a little bit of quirkiness to go with it, hence his desire to go left a bit.

“There are plenty of lovely horses in the bumper, but I think he deserves his chance. He’s run well at Cheltenham already so he’ll go for that.”

In the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle Lavelle intends to run Western Victory, a nine-year-old mare previously trained to Listed success in Ireland by Declan Queally before switching yards and finishing fourth and third in the Warfield and the Yorkshire Rose respectively.

“Western Victory will run in the mares’ hurdle, she came over having had good form in Ireland,” the trainer said.

“We took a little bit of time just to get to know her, she’s a filly that’s on the go all the time and it just took us a while to work her out.

Western Victory at Ascot
Western Victory at Ascot (Adam Davy/PA)

“She had two runs in quick succession and I’m looking forward to running her, she’s in good form.

“A little horse called Hang In There will also run in the Coral Cup I’d say, if the ground isn’t too soft.

“That’s our small team, but I think they all warrant their place.”

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