Paisley Park bids to defy the odds and become the first horse since Inglis Drever to regain the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Thursday.
An eventual three-time winner, Inglis Drever’s title defence was scuppered by injury in 2006, but he returned a year later to take back the crown and Paisley Park will be looking for a similar redemption three years after his victory.
He was only seventh behind Lisnagar Oscar when sent off the 4-6 favourite in 2020 and was third to Flooring Porter last year as the 9-4 market leader.
It looked at one stage as though Emma Lavelle’s stable star might be a spent force, but he proved his critics wrong when recovering from giving his rivals many lengths start to win the Cleeve Hurdle over the course and distance in January.
“He’s been exactly where we want him to be and he’s done everything right at home, so we’re just keeping our fingers crossed,” said Lavelle.
“Aidan (Coleman) has been in to school him and we were very pleased with him. He’s back at a track we know he loves and in front of a crowd this time, which is a bonus.
“His last run showed he has the ability still, it’s a competitive race of course but he’s at his best at Cheltenham and we’re looking forward to it.”
Gavin Cromwell reports Flooring Porter to be in fine form as he bids to retain his title. Flooring Porter made all when the meeting was staged behind closed doors due to restrictions caused by the pandemic.
“He’s good, we’re happy with him. He’s been here for a couple of days now and he’s settled in nicely. He seems in good nick,” said the County Meath trainer.
“It’s going to be a little different with the crowds here this year but I think he’s grown up, so hopefully it won’t be a problem.”
Philip Hobbs is hoping Thyme Hill can make amends for missing the race 12 months ago with a pulled muscle.
The eight-year-old showed he would have been a major player as he went on to win the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree four weeks later. He has been lightly-campaigned this term with this race the objective.
“We said a long time ago he wouldn’t run after the Long Walk at Ascot, so we’ve had a long time to prepare him for this and he’s in as good a condition as we could have hoped,” said Hobbs.
Champ looked like taking the staying hurdle division by storm when beating Thyme Hill in the Long Walk in December but he failed to land the odds when beaten by Paisley Park in the Cleeve.
Trainer Nicky Henderson is optimistic of a better run from the 10-year-old, who won the RSA Chase at the 2020 Festival. He was switched back to hurdles after a poor run in the Gold Cup last year.
“He was maybe a little underwhelming on Trials Day. I didn’t think he jumped quite as well as he did at Ascot. He did little wrong. Full credit to Emma (Lavelle) and her team to get that horse (Paisley Park) back, especially when he gave us a 20-length head start,” said Henderson.
“If I can get him back to where he was at Ascot, and I think he can, he has got to be thereabouts. He wasn’t as sharp as he was at Ascot. Ascot was his first run in quite a long time as he didn’t really have a race in the Gold Cup, so actually his last real race was the Game Spirit at Newbury last season.
“He might have bounced a little bit but he was a better horse at Ascot than he was on Trials Day.”
Willie Mullins feels Klassical Dream can bounce back from a disappointing performance last time when he was only fourth to Royal Kahala in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park.
Mullins blames himself for the defeat which came a month after his all-the-way win in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, when he defeated Flooring Porter by two lengths after getting a flying start.
“It was probably my own fault the last day. I fell into the trap of going into that hurdle race after giving him a break after Christmas and thought he should be fit enough,” said Mullins.
“I probably hadn’t enough done with him. The race wasn’t on my agenda, but it looked like it could be there for the taking and it was next door – if it was at Navan or Down Royal I wouldn’t even have entered him.
“He’s had a bit of problems, but he’s in good shape at the moment.
“He was very good at Christmas. He can be a bit tricky at the start, but if he can get there and get through the start, he has a big chance I think.”
Klassical Dream won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2019 on his only previous run at Cheltenham.