Paisley Park will face 14 rivals when he bids to regain his crown in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Thursday.
Emma Lavelle’s stable star looked set to dominate the division for years to come when landing the Grade One contest in 2019, but was found to be suffering from a heart problem when disappointing in last year’s renewal.
However, the nine-year-old has bounced back to something like his best this season – filling the runner-up spot behind Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, before reversing that form in an epic Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.
With Thyme Hill ruled out last week, some of the biggest threats to Paisley Park hail from Ireland.
Denise Foster, who recently took over the licence from the suspended Gordon Elliott at Cullentra House, launches a three-pronged assault with Fury Road joined by dual Pertemps Final winner Sire Du Berlais and the ultra-consistent The Storyteller.
Flooring Porter had that trio in behind when springing a surprise in a Grade One at Leopardstown over the Christmas period and is also in contention for Gavin Cromwell, while Bacardys (Willie Mullins), Beacon Edge (Noel Meade) complete the raiding party.
The Rebecca Curtis-trained Lisnagar Oscar was a shock winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle 12 months ago and bids for back-to-back victories.
Kim Bailey switches Vinndication back to the smaller obstacles for the first time in over three years, with the eight-year-old having been off the track since unseating David Bass in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November.
Bailey also runs Younevercall, with If The Cap Fits (Harry Fry), Lil Rockerfeller (Neil King), Main Fact (David Pipe), Reserve Tank (Colin Tizzard) and Sam Spinner (Jedd O’Keeffe) the other hopefuls.