Festival may beckon Anythingforlove and Fuller after Sandown triumph

Page Fuller may be reaching for the stars at the Cheltenham Festival after landing her first Graded race success on Anythingforlove in the Jane Seymour Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.

Described by winning trainer Jamie Snowden as “an integral part of my team”, Fuller came in for the ride on the 18-1 shot only because Gavin Sheehan was in action at Fontwell.

She made the very best of the opportunity, though, as Anythingforlove beat Sandymount Rose by two and three-quarter lengths, for a Grade Two success which may extend their association in next month’s Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Fuller, who is enjoying a stellar season after riding out her claim in October, said: “That meant so much to me – a first winner at this level and a lovely mare for her owners.

“I knew she had every chance and was delighted when Gavin had to go to Fontwell.

“It was really hard work, and I had to assume she was going to stay. She heard the others coming, and wasn’t going to be passed.

“Winners like her show we have the quality in the yard – and while Gavin’s the number one, I am so lucky to get chances like this.”

Snowden said of the winner: “She used to be a bit novicey, and we rode her wrong in the Rossington Main.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“Over this trip she found it easier, because they were going a tad slower. I would certainly take a look at the Dawn Run – and especially if it was heavy.”

Nick Gifford’s dream of winning the race run here in April in memory of his late father Josh came a step closer with the 5-1 success of Belargus, under Niall Houlihan.

The six-year-old’s resounding nine-length triumph over Grey Diamond in the Elmbridge Handicap Chase has teed him up for what Gifford sees as “limitless options”.

Some of those will be at Cheltenham, or possibly Aintree, but the Sussex trainer hopes owner JP McManus may consider the Josh Gifford Memorial Handicap Chase in April back at Sandown.

“I’ve always loved this horse,” said Gifford.

“He got done for toe at Warwick, and this is the first time he’s got his jumping together. I could see him going up in trip, and he’ll definitely get two and a half miles on good ground.

“He’s going to be under consideration with a whole lot of others (owned by McManus) for the Grand Annual and Brown Advisory Plate – while the Topham is a lovely race for him (as well).

Niall Houlihan and Belargus clear the last to win the Elmbridge Handicap Chase at Sandown
Niall Houlihan and Belargus clear the last to win the Elmbridge Handicap Chase at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“But the one I’d love to win is the Josh Gifford Memorial – which I came close to winning with Christopher Wren (for McManus seven years ago).

“Realistically we are a tiny cog in the wheel, but romantically I would dearly love to bring him back here.”

Emma Lavelle believes she has an exciting prospect for fences next season in Red Rookie, who cashed in on the final-flight mistake of market rival Pipesmoker to land the Telegraph Hill ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle.

The 5-2 winner eventually prevailed by almost two lengths under Tom Bellamy, from outsider Mister Watson, with favourite Pipesmoker having to settle for third.

Lavelle said: “We love this horse and have felt that since he won two bumpers – but when I took the rug off him at Lingfield (in October) I could see he was fat.

“He came there two out only to weaken through lack of fitness, and then he was poorly.

Red Rookie (middle) was only third over the last but a clear-cut winner in the end of the Telegraph Hill ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown
Red Rookie (middle) was only third over the last but a clear-cut winner in the end of the Telegraph Hill ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“After that it took a long time to get him back, but he certainly is now. I was delighted at the way he jumped and travelled on that ground, and can’t wait to go chasing with him next season.”

Lavelle and Bellamy completed a quick double when 5-2 favourite Eclair Surf won the following Littleworth Handicap Chase by three lengths.

David Pipe’s team is in form – and following Umbrigado’s triumph at Wetherby the previous day, Eamon An Cnoic made no mistake in the opening Greenwich Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

The 100-30 chance came home 20 lengths clear of Will Sting under Fergus Gillard, who said: “My horse travelled really well. He got tired but at the same time won nicely.”

Dan and Harry Skelton combined to land the Kingston Handicap Chase with 11-4 shot No Getaway – who stretched nine-and-a-half lengths clear of Doitforthevillage, with favourite Mister Murchan back in third.

Paisley Park heads straight to Cheltenham

Paisley Park will straight head to the Cheltenham Festival after trainer Emma Lavelle decided to miss the rescheduled Cleeve Hurdle at Wetherby with her stable star.

The Marlborough trainer has not entered the nine-year-old this weekend, preferring a racecourse gallop as preparation rather than running on very testing ground just six weeks before he bids to reclaim his Stayers’ Hurdle crown.

“On balancing up on what makes sense and what doesn’t, I just don’t think it makes sense to go up there and run on what will be incredibly testing ground,” said Lavelle.

“Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t as though Cheltenham wasn’t going to be testing (before it was abandoned last Saturday), but there were other reasons for wanting to go to Cheltenham.

“It would have been experience back there, having had his heart fibrillation (after last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle).

“We said if it was on we’d go (to Cheltenham). We’d have gone to Wincanton (if the race had been re-scheduled there on Thursday), but it was dubious if that was going to be on.”

Paisley Park will therefore head back to Cheltenham after just two runs this season, as runner-up in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle and then winner of Ascot’s Long Walk just before Christmas.

“We had a good discussion about it, and we all think it was the right decision to make,” added Lavelle.

“We’ll take him for a racecourse gallop somewhere to make him feel like he’s been to the races.

“It’s just frustrating. He’s mature, and we want to be going to the races with him, but there’s also a balance about going to the races with him and not bottoming him at this stage.

“What I think it will mean is it will extend our (options) hopefully the other end. I would hope we would then go on to Punchestown, Aintree or whatever.”

Ibleo doubles up with comfortable Doncaster verdict

Ibleo’s fine run of form continued as he was the game victor of the Sky Bet Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Chase at Doncaster.

Placed second twice at the beginning of the season and then a winner at Sandown last time out, the eight-year-old has risen 15lb in the ratings this term already.

Jumping fluently throughout under Charlie Deutsch, the 6-5 favourite locked horns with The Big Bite over the last before pulling away to record a three-and-a-half-length success.

“I always look forward to riding him. He’s a brilliant jumper, he knows his job and he knows where the winning line is,” Deutsch said.

“He’s very straightforward, but fair play to Venetia (Williams, trainer) for keeping him in such good form all season.

“He’s done it very well, he’s really quick over his fences. He goes so fast and lets himself get very close as he approaches them, but he still seems to not lose any ground – he makes up ground when the others are jumping longer and higher.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“He’s got better and better as he’s got more confident.”

Sam Barton shed his maiden tag for Emma Lavelle and Adam Wedge when taking the Sporting Life EBF “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle at odds of 3-1.

The Trevor Hemmings-owned gelding finished second in a similar contest at Hereford in November and went one better this time to come home two and a quarter lengths ahead of 2-1 favourite The Edgar Wallace, with the rest of field a further 18 lengths behind.

“We were really pleased with him,” Lavelle said.

“He’s such a lovely, big horse, but he is just a big baby.

“He was a little green as you saw over the second from last, but he’s a horse that will improve with time and we hope there’s a lot more to come from him.

“The likely next step with him would be to go for the EBF final, but we absolutely hope he’d make a lovely chaser in time.

“He’s a perfect example of the Trevor Hemmings horse – he’s a big, strapping horse who we really like, we’re really pleased with him.”

Oliver Greenall’s Zalvados claimed a first victory over fences when taking the Sky Bet Britain’s Most Popular Online Bookmaker Novices’ Handicap Chase under Paddy Brennan.

The eight-year-old had finished second on four occasions, but ended his winless run with a comfortable seven-length success at a price of 18-1.

“It isn’t easy running on this ground, you need a horse to keep going,” Brennan said of the soft conditions.

“When they start pulling up early in a race it would suggest it’s really hard work, but I like riding him, he’s a challenge.

“There’s no life in the ground and the horses feel it, and feel it early, but it’s great to be racing.”

Lunar Sovereign then provided Brennan with a double when triumphing in the First Race Special On Sky Bet Tomorrow Novices’ Hurdle.

Following up a debut hurdle success at Wetherby in late December, the 9-2 shot crossed the line four and three-quarters lengths ahead of Alastair Ralph’s Jack Sharp, with 11-10 favourite Flinteur Sacre, full brother to Sprinter Sacre, well beaten in 12th.

Trainer Mark Gillard and son Theo then teamed up to take the Play ITV7 Tomorrow Novices’ Handicap Hurdle with the six-year-old Finisher (12-1), before the Sky Bet Extra Places Every Day Handicap Hurdle went the way of Laura Morgan’s J’Ai Froid (5-4 favourite), piloted by Max Kendrick.

Paisley Park ‘as good as ever’, says proud owner Andrew Gemmell

Andrew Gemmell is counting down the days to the Cheltenham Festival as his beloved Paisley Park prepares to line up for a third Cleeve Hurdle.

The nine-year-old has won the race for the past two seasons, using it as a springboard to the ultimate prize for horses in his division, the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Paisley Park was a hugely popular winner of the latter race in 2019 – a victory that was made particularly moving by the joy and passion shown by Gemmell, who was born blind and follows his runners via the race commentary alone.

A 2020 title defence was not successful, however, as the Emma Lavelle-trained gelding could only finish seventh when 4-6 favourite and was later found to be suffering from an irregular heartbeat.

Thankfully Paisley Park went on to make a full recovery, as well-evidenced by his two gallant efforts this season; a runner-up spot behind Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on his first run back and a scintillating last-gasp victory over the same horse in Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in December.

Despite the limitations now imposed on owners attending the races, that performance fell at a time when connections could access the racetrack and Gemmell was thrilled to be there as his horse resumed winning ways.

“The race at Newbury, I got more nervous about that than any of the previous races,” he said in a call hosted by Great British Racing.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“Obviously we didn’t know, after the difficulties with the heart, how good he’d be, but he ran such a cracking race behind Thyme Hill.

“It was just such a relief to know he was back in full order again and then to win the Long Walk was truly astonishing.

“It was really terrific, that race against Thyme Hill at Ascot.

Aidan Coleman and Paisley Park (right) on their way to reeling in Thyme Hill
Aidan Coleman and Paisley Park (right) on their way to reeling in Thyme Hill (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I think the enthusiasm was really brought to the boil by the race at Ascot, and Simon Holt’s commentary when he got him right at the end was brilliant.”

Like all parties bar a few key industry personnel, Gemmell is now unable to be on a racecourse and is resigned to following the action via the television coverage this weekend.

Victory would be an important stepping-stone to the prize connections covet the most, the retrieval of his Stayers’ Hurdle crown.

“Everything’s been going to plan, which is really exciting,” Gemmell said.

“Everyone’s been saying he’s been doing brilliant pieces of work and it’s all going well, everything’s on course.

“It’s the ideal time span, six weeks from one race (Ascot) to the other (Cleeve Hurdle), six weeks to the next (the Festival). We just can’t wait to get going again.

“I think he’s as good as ever, I just can’t wait for the big day.”

Andrew Gemmell (centre) celebrates Cheltenham Festival glory
Andrew Gemmell (centre) celebrates Cheltenham Festival glory (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Gemmell and his favourite horse have become one of the sport’s most endearing tales, and it is a team trainer Lavelle is grateful to be a part of.

“He’s created a huge interest and deservedly so, he’s a very special horse,” she said of her stable star.

“I can’t believe that I’m saying this live, but Andrew’s a pretty special bloke as well – it’s lovely to have this involvement with them.

“I think the only thing that Paisley’s disappointed about is that with Andrew not coming down, it means that he’s definitely having a reduced load of polos every day!”

Paisley Parks looks the horse to beat, and a triumph will surely elevate his owner’s Cheltenham Festival fever even further.

“It’s everything, really,” he said.

“You’ve got something really exciting and it’s at the end of the rainbow.

“I just can’t wait for it to happen again, the more we’ve gone on, the more excited I get just thinking about it.

“We could be there again and hopefully regain the title.”

Paisley Park all set for Cheltenham return

Star staying hurdler Paisley Park is among nine entries for Saturday’s Paddy Power Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Emma Lavelle’s stalwart got back to winning ways last time out in a thrilling finish with Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.

Philip Hobbs has not entered his charge this time around, but the Ascot form was boosted at the weekend when Roksana, who was third, was an easy winner.

“On paper it might not look as tough as the Long Walk, that’s true, and he’s in great order,” said Lavelle.

“What will be nice will be to go back to Cheltenham and have a nice experience after what happened at the Festival last year.

“While I’m glad there’s not going to be a massive field, I want him to have a nice experience. I certainly wouldn’t say it looks easy, though – all races at this level are difficult.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“We’ll be giving weight away, but he seems in great order and the timing of this race is absolutely perfect as we can let him down a bit after it.

“Obviously the ground looks like being testing, but we can’t do much about that. We’d love it if the forecast was a bit better and it wasn’t a real slog, but it is what it is. He loves racing, this horse.”

Main Fact has been a revelation this season
Main Fact has been a revelation this season (Tim Goode/PA)

Harry Fry’s veteran Unowhatimeanharry is among potential opponents, along with the David Pipe duo of Ramses De Teillee and Main Fact, who had his long winning run ended in the Long Walk.

Itchy Feet could return to hurdles for Olly Murphy, with Third Wind (Hughie Morrison) another possible.

Nicky Henderson’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini is among 10 contenders in the Paddy Power ’45 Sleeps To Cheltenham’ Cotswold Chase.

He has yet to win in two outings this season, at Aintree and when fifth in the King George VI Chase.

Santini (in grey) was just touched off in the Gold Cup
Santini (in grey) was just touched off in the Gold Cup (Jacob King/PA)

Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados, fourth in the King George, rates as a serious danger as does Bristol De Mai, fresh from this third win in the Betfair Chase.

One who could be out again quickly is Paul Nicholls’ Yala Enki, who only won at Taunton on Saturday.

“If it poured with rain on Thursday and Friday I would be kicking myself if I hadn’t put him in the race, though it is a tentative entry,” said Nicholls.

“He is hard to place off his mark of 161 and has not got any kind of penalty in this race.

“Some of the others that are going to run in the Gold Cup might not want a slog at this stage round Cheltenham, so it could cut up.”

Rehearsal Chase winner Yorkhill, David Bridgwater’s The Conditional and a previous Gold Cup winner in Native River (Colin Tizzard) are among the entries.

Nicky Martin’s Bear Ghylls is among 14 in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, with Lecale’s Article and Wilde About Oscar in the mix.

The Pipe-trained Adagio, already a Grade One winner this season, is one of 15 in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle along with Gary Moore’s Nassalam, who was second to him at Chepstow.

Heross Du Seuil, Honneur D’Ajonc and Sage Advice ensure plenty of strength in depth.

Paisley Park and Thyme Hill poised for decider in Stayers’ Hurdle

Paisley Park and Thyme Hill are set to do battle once more in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park emerged as the dominant force in the division when claiming the Grade One prize in 2019, but was found to be suffering from a fibrillating heart when failing to fire in last season’s renewal.

The nine-year-old has bounced back to something like his best this term – filling the runner-up spot behind the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, before reversing that form in an epic climax to the Long Walk at Ascot.

The pair remain on course for a mouthwatering third clash at the Festival on March 18, for which there are 51 entries.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Gordon Elliott has a strong hand, with his four-strong team headed by dual Festival winner Sire Du Berlais.

The JP McManus-owned gelding has won the Pertemps Final in each of the past two seasons and made a successful start to the current campaign in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan in November.

Sire Du Berlais had to settle for minor honours on his latest appearance at Leopardstown over the Christmas period behind Gavin Cromwell’s surprise winner Flooring Porter, who is also in Stayers’ Hurdle contention.

Elliott also has The Storyteller, Commander Of Fleet and Fury Road in the mix, while Willie Mullins has entered six horses for a race he has won twice in recent years with Nichols Canyon (2017) and Penhill (2018).

The Closutton maestro’s sextet includes last year’s third Bacardys, top-class mare Benie Des Dieux and triple Grade One-winning chaser Kemboy, who has not run over hurdles in nearly four years.

Star mare Benie Des Dieux has been entered by Willie Mullins
Star mare Benie Des Dieux has been entered by Willie Mullins (PA)

Nicky Henderson has entered Gold Cup contender Champ, while shock 2020 winner Lisnagar Oscar (Rebecca Curtis), runner-up Ronald Pump (Matthew Smith), McFabulous (Paul Nicholls) and Sam Spinner (Jedd O’Keeffe) – who chased home Paisley Park two years ago – also feature.

The latter has not looked at his best in two outings so far this season, but O’Keeffe believes there were valid excuses.

He said: “Sam Spinner is fine at home and the Stayers’ Hurdle is a definite target for him.

“He has had a little bit of time off after his run at Newbury as an old foot injury has flared up again. Due to that injury, the plan is to stay over hurdles this season and so the Stayers’ Hurdle will be his main spring target.

“I think we are going to struggle to get a run into him before the race, so he will be going to Cheltenham fresh.

“He has solid form at Cheltenham, so hopefully he can get there in one piece.”

There is one entry from France in Paul’s Saga (David Cottin). The seven-year-old mare landed the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil (French Champion Hurdle) in October.

Paisley Park ‘bouncing’ for Cleeve hat-trick bid

Paisley Park is reported to be “bouncing” as he prepares for the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham this month.

The nine-year-old will be bidding for a hat-trick in the Grade Two contest on January 30, having landed it before going on to glory in the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle and then winning again 12 months ago.

Paisley Park subsequently failed to fire in his Stayers’ defence last year after suffering a heart issue. But he has roared back to form this term, finishing second in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and then gaining revenge on Thyme Hill in the Long Walk at Ascot before Christmas.

Trainer Emma Lavelle is keen to capitalise on the nine-year-old’s current well-being and is planning to head back to Prestbury Park next.

She said: “He’s absolutely bouncing, and the Cleeve is very much his next race.

“He’s just turned nine – he should be in his prime and running in races.

“He was an odds-on favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle last year and then he had a heart issue, so I think when they’re well and in good form – I know it’s easy to say with a horse like him – he should go to the races.”

Boreham Bill claims shock Lanzarote Hurdle verdict

Emma Lavelle and Ben Jones celebrated another notable winner together as Boreham Bill sprang a 66-1 surprise in the Ladbrokes Lanzarote Hurdle.

Having teamed up to strike gold in last year’s Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury with De Rasher Counter, the pair proved a lethal combination once again in the competitive Listed prize.

Held up wide amongst runners during the early stages of the two-mile-five-furlong contest, the nine-year-old steadily worked his way into contention before forging clear down to the last.

Although bottom weight Misty Whisky finished with a flourish, the Harry Fry-trained mare could not bridge the gap, with two and a quarter lengths separating the pair at the post.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Lavelle said: “It has taken me time to work this horse out. We thought he was better going left-handed as he always jumps out to the left. We were looking for slightly nicer ground and that is why we came here last time and that was a cracking run.

“We came here today thinking for a horse rated 132 we didn’t have many options, so we thought we would look at this. I would be lying if I said we came here thinking we had an absolute sure thing, but he has run an absolute corker.

“If I’m honest, they probably went too hard in front, which put paid to Shang Tang (other runner) and probably set the race up a little bit for Boreham Bill.”

Lavelle believes the tactics employed by rising star Jones were key to the success.

She added: “Ben had him in a great position. He was wider on the slightly better ground, which was less chewed up, and the horse loved it out there.

“He had clear view of his hurdles and he has galloped all the way home. He made a mistake at the last when it looked like he was going to win last time and Ben was certain he didn’t want to make that mistake again.

“Ben has been great, He is a good, young rider that is brave and he has had some very good results for us.”

Regarding future plans, the Grade One-winning trainer will let the dust settle before mapping out a target.

She added: “We will have a look and see what is out there. It is a big step up delivering in a race like this. I think we will enjoy this and not make any plans on where we go next, but keep all our options open.”

Paisley and Thyme ready for round two in Long Walk cracker

Thyme Hill and Paisley Park engage in what promises to be a fascinating rematch for the Porsche Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.

The Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill won three of his four starts in the novice hurdling division last season – his only defeat coming as a close-up fourth in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival.

The six-year-old made a successful reappearance when seeing off Paisley Park by a length and a half in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle three weeks ago – and four-time champion jockey Richard Johnson hopes he can confirm his superiority this weekend.

Johnson said: “He’s in very good form. Hopefully he can build on his Newbury performance in what is a very good renewal of the race.

“It’s going to take a lot of winning, but obviously I wouldn’t swap Thyme Hill for anything else.

“I was very pleased with him at Newbury. It’s going to be testing conditions on Saturday, and whatever wins the race is going to have to put up a good performance.

“In these races, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park landed this Grade One prize during what was a faultless campaign two seasons ago.

Your first 30 days for just £1

However, an unbeaten run of seven straight victories came to an abrupt end when he finished only seventh in defence of his Stayers’ Hurdle crown in March, after which he was found to be suffering from a heart problem.

Connections were justifiably thrilled with his Newbury comeback, and he is 3lb better off with Thyme Hill for their second clash.

“He had a lovely blow this (Friday) morning and he’s very fresh. He’s all set for Saturday,” said Lavelle.

“There’s always plenty to be done here, so you can keep focused on that before thinking too much about Saturday. I think the drive to Ascot will be when the nervous excitement will kick in.

“It’s very exciting to have horses able to run in these kind of races – and from Paisley’s point of view, it’s just lovely to see him back on the track after what happened at Cheltenham.”

Paisley Park bids to bounce back to winning ways
Paisley Park bids to bounce back to winning ways (David Davies/PA)

Paisley Park was declared a non-runner on the morning of last year’s Long Walk Hurdle because of the ultra-testing conditions.

Soft ground will again be to the fore, but Lavelle is not making any pre-race excuses, adding: “You just want everyone to have a clear run, and the best horse wins.

“You never want to run on extremes of going, but the ground is what the ground is.

“He’s handled soft ground before. I’m glad we’ve got a run under our belt before running on this ground, but I think he has every right to handle it as well as anything else, anyway.”

Main Fact bids to stretch his remarkable winning streak to double figures for trainer David Pipe.

The seven-year-old appeared to relish the step up to three miles when making it nine on the bounce in the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock – and now aims to complete his fairytale rise with a top-level success under conditional Fergus Gillard .

Pipe said: “He’s been fantastic. We have to improve again, and obviously the first two in the betting (Thyme Hill and Paisley Park) are the ones to beat, but at least we’ll have our favoured ground. Maybe he’ll handle the ground better than the top two.

“He keeps beating what’s put in front of him. It will be tough for him on Saturday, but he’s definitely earned his place and we’ll give it our best shot.

“If he can finish in the first three, it will be another fantastic run.”

Roksana bids to beat the boys
Roksana bids to beat the boys (Nigel French/PA)

The only mare in the field is Dan Skelton’s Roksana, who was thoroughly impressive on her return to action at Wetherby in October and has purposely been kept fresh for this race since.

Skelton said: “Obviously the boys have got to give us 7lb. She had a great run at Wetherby last time, and this has been the target since.

“I’m very happy with how she looks and she handles soft ground. It’s the first time we’ve gone to this level, and we’re excited and ready to go.”

It is five years since Thistlecrack trounced his Long Walk rivals for Colin Tizzard and Tom Scudamore and he was due to bid again but unfortunately he was withdrawn on the morning of the race due to lameness.

Gemmell full of nervous anticipation for Paisley Park’s return

Owner Andrew Gemmell admits to a mixture of nerves and excitement as Paisley Park returns to action in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.

The eight-year-old looked set to become the dominant force in the division for years to come after crowning an unbeaten campaign with victory in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2019 – and he then made a successful start to last season in this Grade Two contest.

Having extended his winning streak to eight in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January, he was all the rage to successfully defend his Stayers’ Hurdle crown in March, but finished a disappointing seventh – after which he was found to be suffering from a heart problem.

While the issue was swiftly rectified, and there has been no evidence of a recurrence since Paisley Park returned from a summer break, Emma Lavelle’s stable star undoubtedly has something to prove on his reappearance.

Gemmell said: “It’s obviously the first time he’s run since the heart problem at Cheltenham – but all seems fine now, and we’re ready to go.

“It’s a very tough race on Friday, but as long as he comes through well, we’ll be happy. It is his first run of the season, so it’s not the be-all and end-all.

“I think he’s pretty fit – Emma and Barry (Fenton, trainer’s husband) are certainly very pleased with him.

“He seems better than ever at the moment, but we won’t really know until Friday.

“Hopefully he’ll run well, and we can then we can go back to Ascot for the Long Walk.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Lisnagar Oscar after winning the Stayers' Hurdle
Lisnagar Oscar after winning the Stayers’ Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

The horse who made the most of Paisley Park failing to fire in the Stayers’ Hurdle was the shock 50-1 winner Lisnagar Oscar.

The Oscar gelding could finish only fourth on his seasonal debut at Wetherby last month, but trainer Rebecca Curtis hopes he can be more competitive on Friday.

Curtis said: “He’s been really good since Wetherby, and I think he’s come on a bit for the run.

“We’d prefer slightly softer ground, but he does have form on good ground, so I’m not going to rule out running him.

“It looks a very hot race, but he seems in good form. All roads lead back to Cheltenham in March – so as long as he runs nice races along the way, we’ll be happy.”

Paul Nicholls has won the Long Distance Hurdle five times, with the four triumphs of the brilliant Big Buck’s followed by the victory of Celestial Halo. This year, the Ditcheat handler relies on last month’s Persian War Novices’ Hurdle winner McFabulous.

“I think the world of McFabulous, who came good towards the end of last season after we ironed out his jumping. He was very impressive on his seasonal debut at Chepstow early in October, jumping slickly and cruising clear in the closing stages,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“I’ve had this race in mind for him for months. The ground is ideal – and while it is a step up in class, he looks fantastic in his coat and continues to please at home.

“I am really looking forward to running McFabulous, who schooled well on Tuesday morning.”

Summerville Boy represents Tom George
Summerville Boy represents Tom George (Julian Herbert/PA)

Summerville Boy was fifth in the Stayers’ Hurdle last season, and trainer Tom George is hoping he can build on a recent Aintree success.

“He put up a good performance to win at Aintree. That was two and a half miles, now he’s going back to three,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“We think that now he’s got a bit older, he’s become more relaxed, so he should be able to see the three miles out.

“That’s why we’re doing it, because there aren’t as many options at two and a half. This should tell us where we’re going in the spring.”

Sam Spinner was runner-up to Paisley Park at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019 and won his first three starts over fences last season, before injury intervened.

Sam Spinner switches back to hurdles
Sam Spinner switches back to hurdles (Clint Hughes/PA)

He was disappointingly pulled up on his return in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, prompting trainer Jedd O’Keeffe to switch him back to the smaller obstacles this weekend.

O’Keeffe said: “We haven’t turned away from fences, but we need to restore Sam Spinner’s confidence by going back over hurdles. When you are rated 162, the options are limited.

“Everything is open as to whether he resumes his career over hurdles or goes back over fences. He is in good form at home, working well, and has been schooling over hurdles really well. We just want to see him go there and enjoy himself, and of course do something.

“It’s a while since he took on Paisley Park, but we are hoping the horse hasn’t lost his ability, enthusiasm or confidence.”

The Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill – one of last season’s star staying novice hurdlers – makes his first start since finishing a close-up fourth in the Albert Bartlett in what promises to be a fascinating contest.

Paisley Park set to defend Newbury crown

Paisley Park is set to face nine rivals in his bid for back-to-back victories in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.

The 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle hero made a winning reappearance in this Grade Two contest 12 months ago – and after adding a second Cleeve Hurdle to his CV at Cheltenham in January, he was unsurprisingly a red-hot favourite to successfully defend his crown at the Festival.

However, Paisley Park could finish only seventh at the showpiece meeting in March, after which he was found to be suffering from a heart problem which later rectified itself.

Nevertheless, Emma Lavelle’s stable star will return with something to prove in Friday’s feature.

Your first 30 days for just £1

The horse rated the biggest threat to Paisley Park by bookmakers is the Paul Nicholls-trained McFabulous, who rounded off last season with victory in the EBF Final at Kempton and made a successful start to the new campaign in the Persian War at Chepstow last month.

Last season’s shock Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar, trained by Rebecca Curtis, will be expected to strip fitter for a comeback run at Wetherby, when fourth in the West Yorkshire Hurdle.

Tom George will be hoping Summerville Boy can build on a recent Aintree success, while the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill – one of last season’s star staying novice hurdlers – makes his first start since finishing a close-up fourth in the Albert Bartlett.

Sam Spinner switches back to hurdles
Sam Spinner switches back to hurdles (Clint Hughes/PA)

Jedd O’Keeffe’s Sam Spinner reverts to the smaller obstacles, after being pulled up in the early stages of the Charlie Hall at Wetherby.

Aux Ptits Soins (Dan Skelton), Honest Vic (Henry Daly), One Night In Milan (Keith Dalgleish) and Vision Des Flos (Colin Tizzard) complete the line-up, with Alan King’s Who Dares Wins the only horse not declared from the confirmation stage.

Just three runners go to post for the other Grade Two on Friday’s card – the Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Novices’ Chase.

Fiddlerontheroof bids to join an illustrious roll of honour in the Grade Two novice chase
Fiddlerontheroof bids to join an illustrious roll of honour in the Grade Two novice chase (David Davies/PA)

Recent winners of this two-and-a-half-mile contest include a couple of Cheltenham Gold Cup winners in Bobs Worth (2011) and Coneygree (2014), dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux (2016), high-class mare La Bague Au Roi (2018) and Champ (2019).

The likely favourite for this year’s renewal is Tizzard’s Fiddlerontheroof, who was runner-up to If The Cap Fits on his chasing debut, before getting off the mark with a narrow verdict at Exeter little over a fortnight ago.

His two rivals are Nicky Henderson’s Caribean Boy, off the track since winning at Haydock in February, and the Nicholls-trained Getaway Trump – who has won twice from four starts over fences this term.

Lavelle maps out long-term Sandown target for Prophecy

Emma Lavelle plans to work back from an outing in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown with Irish Prophecy.

After deciding to draw stumps for the winter with the seven-year-old, Lavelle believes the prestigious handicap on the final day of the season could be a suitable long-term target.

Irish Prophecy added to his first victory over fences at Newton Abbot in July with a decisive success at Taunton on his most recent start, having previously found only Badger Beers Silver Trophy winner El Presente too strong at Exeter.

She said: “He has been brilliant recently, but he is off on holiday at the moment as he wants decent ground.

“We will look at some of the nice staying races in the spring with him.

“I would think we will end up looking towards going to the bet365 Gold Cup. ”

Emma Lavelle feels Irish Prophecy has benefitted from having cheekpieces applied on his last two starts (Mike Egerton/PA Images)
Emma Lavelle feels Irish Prophecy has benefitted from having cheekpieces applied on his last two starts (Mike Egerton/PA Images)

The Marlborough handler believes the recent addition of cheekpieces has helped Irish Prophecy begin to fulfil his potential over fences.

She added: “He is a great jumper now, as he used to be slow over them.

“The cheekpieces have made the world of difference to the horse as they have allowed him to travel.

“At Taunton he was quick, accurate and slick.”

With Irish Prophecy racing in the silks of long-standing owner Nick Mustoe, it has given Lavelle further reason to be pleased about his recent progress.

Lavelle said: “Nick Mustoe is the nicest, most loyal person ever planted on this earth.

“To see him having a horse like this and be involved with Shang Tang, who won at Ascot on Saturday, is great as he has been through thick and thin.

“You just want people like him to have all the luck in the world.”

Paisley Park out to see off young brigade

Emma Lavelle accepts Paisely Park may need to progress again if he is to regain his Stayers’ Hurdle crown at the Cheltenham Festival.

The eight-year-old suffered a shock defeat in the Grade One feature back in March – coming home a well-beaten seventh behind Lisnagar Oscar, having triumphed in his two prep runs for the main event.

It later transpired Paisley Park had suffered an irregular heartbeat at the Festival. But after he worked with stablemate Hoi Polloi at Newbury as part of Tuesday’s Ladbrokes Winter Carnival gallops morning, Lavelle believes he is primed for his return in the Long Distance Hurdle back at the Berkshire track on November 27 – a race he won first time out last term.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Lavelle said: “He has been absolutely brilliant. Barry (Fenton) rides him all the time and he knows him inside out.

“All the way through this season, he has been happier with him. He has just felt really sparky and well in himself. He is just much more up for it and he hasn’t had to ask him any questions.

“He came in with a beaming smile after that (gallop), because he was bulling for more as they crossed the line. Coming here was not about seeing how fast he could go up the home straight, it was about lengthening. He lengthened for five furlongs.

“Both horses came out of it full of confidence. They’ve had a nice blow, and it would have brought him forward and hopefully put him spot on for a week on Friday.”

Lavelle has no plans to go over fences with Paisley Park in the future, but admits he will need to raise his game again if he is to remain among the top rank in the staying hurdle division.

She added: “I’d say he will be a hurdler for the rest of his career. He is a great jumper of a hurdle now, but he took a long time to be a good jumper of a hurdle. I don’t know if he is manly enough to tackle fences. If we can win the races we have been winning, why take that risk?

“Every year you look at the new horses coming up that are going to have a crack at that division, and we were one of them. I’d never take any of these horses for granted, but I sometimes think once you have been there and done it, there has been a history of those kind of horses remaining at the top for a while in this division, and we are hoping that he is one of them.

“He probably will have to step forward again, but he is only eight. I think naturally he should still be getting better, if everything operates in the way that it should.”

Tendon injury sidelines De Rasher Counter for the season

De Rasher Counter has been ruled out for the season due to a tendon injury.

Emma Lavelle’s chaser was being prepared to defend his Ladbrokes Trophy title at Newbury later this month after finishing second on his seasonal bow over hurdles at Newton Abbot in October.

However, the eight-year-old has suffered a setback and Lavelle feels the best course of action is to draw stumps for the whole campaign.

“He just had a bit of heat in his near-fore (leg) this morning,” said Lavelle.

“He is 100 per cent sound, but I just wasn’t happy with it. Our vet came in and scanned it and there’s a mark on the tendon, so that’s the end of our defence – for this year anyway.

“It’s not the end of the world, these things happen, but it’s a kick in the teeth.

“He’ll miss the whole season because if we try to bring him back earlier and it doesn’t work, then we’ll miss longer, so if we bite the bullet and take the sensible route, it’s the best thing.

“He’s only eight, he’s a lovely horse, so it makes sense to give him time and bring him back when there’s a bit more normality in the world.”

Paisley Park ‘loving life’ as Newbury return nears

Emma Lavelle reports stable star Paisley Park in rude health as he prepares to  return to competitive action at Newbury next month.

The eight-year-old was the hot favourite to extend his winning sequence to eight by successfully defending his crown in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March – but he finished a well-beaten seventh, after which he was found to have an irregular heartbeat.

While the problem ultimately rectified itself, Paisley Park continues to wear a heart monitor during some of his work at home – and there has been no recurrence of the issue since he returned from a summer break.

Lavelle said: “Touch wood, everything has been brilliant since he came back in. I’m really happy with him, and everything seems to be happening the way it should.

“I think it (heart monitor) is a useful tool, just to make sure everything is as it should be.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“He had his first trip up the grass on Thursday and is loving life.”

With a defence of his crown in the Long Distance Hurdle first on Paisley Park’s agenda, Marlborough-based Lavelle is optimistic that he can bounce back to his brilliant best this term.

She added: “He’s really fresh and well – and funnily enough, he’s actually been easier to get fit this time around than he was last year.

“Newbury is very much the plan, and it would be nice if we can get a racecourse gallop into him at some stage, hopefully at Newbury.

“It would be nice to get him back on the track, just in case he has any nasty memories of racing from Cheltenham.”

It is set to be a big weekend for the team at Newbury next month, with De Rasher Counter also firmly on course to bid for back-to-back wins in the Ladbrokes Trophy.

De Rasher Counter wins the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury
De Rasher Counter wins the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury (Nigel French/PA)

Following his victory of last year, De Rasher Counter ran in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham before being pulled up in the Midlands National at Uttoxeter, but he made a promising return when runner-up over hurdles at Newton Abbot a couple of weeks ago.

“I was absolutely delighted with him the other day,” said Lavelle.

“It was a fair effort, because he was trying to give two and a half stone to the horse that beat him (Sammylou) – and touch wood, he’s come out of that well.

“He looks great, and Newbury is very much the plan – he’s actually only 6lb higher than when he won the race last year, because of the way things worked out.

“It would have been nice to have kept stepping up. But nicer ground is important to him, and it was just bottomless after Newbury, and he never really got the chance to show his true ability.

“What that did do is bring him down a few pounds in the weights, so we’re probably not in a bad position going into the Ladbrokes Trophy this time around.”