Top stayers in line for Newbury showdown

Lisnagar Oscar and Paisley Park could be set for an early-season face-off in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Friday.

The Rebecca Curtis-trained Lisnagar Oscar was a shock 50-1 winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival back in March and reappeared at Wetherby last month, finishing fourth in a Grade Two heat.

Paisley Park won the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle for Emma Lavelle, but he was only seventh in his title defence, although it later emerged he had suffered from a defibrillating heart. He will be having his first start since in a race he won last year.

Summerville Boy finished fifth in the Stayers’ and he already has a win under his belt for Tom George this term, while Sam Spinner, a Grade One winner over hurdles three years ago, could revert to the smaller obstacles for Jedd O’Keeffe after being pulled up in the Charlie Hall Chase last month.

The Paul Nicholls-trained McFabulous is another leading contender with ex-Ditcheat inmate Aux Ptits Soins entered by Dan Skelton having been off the track since May 2019.

Albert Bartlett fourth Thyme Hill, Honest Vic, One Night In Milan, Vision Des Flos and Royal Ascot winner Who Dares Wins are the other contenders.

Lisnagar Oscar out to prove his class at Wetherby

Lisnagar Oscar gets a first chance to show his victory in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham was no fluke when he returns to action in the bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby.

Rebecca Curtis believes her shock 50-1 winner of the three-mile showpiece at the Festival in March can dispel the doubters – and is looking forward to the seven-year-old making his seasonal reappearance on Saturday in a Grade Two contest registered as the West Yorkshire Hurdle.

“It’s great to get him out again. He seems in really good form at home,” said the Pembrokeshire trainer.

“Obviously Wetherby is a completely different track to Cheltenham. He loves Cheltenham, but at the same time I think he should run very well.

“He’s got the penalty to give away – but he’s won his Grade One, it’s racing and that’s only fair.

“He was a 50-1 shot last year, but hopefully we can get a better start this year and get him noticed for going back to Cheltenham again.

“He comes to hand quite quickly, so I thought we’d get him out. I didn’t want to wait until the end of November for him to start. It’s nice to get him going.”

Next Destination is a new recruit for Paul Nicholls
Next Destination is a new recruit for Paul Nicholls (Niall Carson/PA)

Next Destination is a fascinating contender on his debut for Paul Nicholls, having been off the track since beating Delta Work in a Grade One novice hurdle at the 2018 Punchestown Festival for Willie Mullins.

Nicholls said: “He hasn’t run for 900-odd days, and we have got to start somewhere.

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“I thought the ground will be nice at Wetherby. If he has a nice run and comes back safe and sound and has a good blow, we can then go chasing with him in three weeks’ time, which remains the main plan.

“He is fit, well and healthy – but this is just a starting point. He hasn’t had an away day like I would have liked to have given him, because the ground has been too quick.

“He has had problems, and we have had to train him a little bit with the handbrake on – so whatever he does he will improve enormously.”

The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Wholestone makes his first appearance since winning a novice chase at Cheltenham last November.

The nine-year-old has his first race over hurdles since April 2019 and was a force to be reckoned with in this discipline, having finished third in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2018 and won three Grade Two races.

Twiston-Davies said: “It looks a hot race, but they all are! It’s a competitive race, but we’re always hopeful.

“He’s had a very minor problem. It was nothing serious, but he’s in good form now.”

Chapmanshype takes a big hike in class in the bet365 Hurdle
Chapmanshype takes a big hike in class in the bet365 Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Chapmanshype takes a huge leap from handicap company but arrives in good form, having won his last two races.

The six-year-old is also tackling three miles for the first time, but his trainer Jamie Snowden cannot wait to see how he gets on.

“It’s a big step up in class, but he’s won seven of his 13 starts,” said the Lambourn handler.

“He’s progressed well through the handicap ranks, and the form of his Kelso win looks good. He broke the course record carrying top weight, so he’s been progressing nicely.

“The step up in trip is a little bit of an unknown, but he’s bred to appreciate it and we go there with a horse in form.”

Decor Irlandais makes the journey from Northern Ireland, and his trainer Noel Kelly believes his regular traveller has each-way prospects.

The seven-year-old won at Catterick and was second in the Grade Two Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick last winter, but fell short in the Ballymore at Cheltenham on his last trip across the Irish Sea.

However, he has shaped well in both his outings since having a break, to be placed at Galway and then win at Killarney.

Kelly said: “Everything is good. He ran very well the last day at Killarney. Three miles and a bit of nice ground should suit him over there.

“He travels very well – he’s been over to England a few times. He should have an each way chance, definitely. He’s in good form.”

Nicky Henderson with Verdana Blue
Nicky Henderson with Verdana Blue (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Verdana Blue is the star attraction in the bet365 Mares’ Hurdle. Nicky Henderson’s nine-times winner is rated upwards of 22lb superior to her six rivals and will be a red-hot favourite to go one better than when runner-up to Silver Streak at Kempton a fortnight ago.

Henderson said: “They just went quite slow at Kempton last time, and it turned into a sprint, which didn’t quite suit her. She had all the conditions in her favour, with the ground and the weights, and she did nothing wrong – she just got caught for a turn of foot.

“There are not many races for her – and as she came out of the race so well, this seemed an obvious race to have a crack at.

“You would like to think this would be easier, but there is no such thing as a penalty kick in racing like there is in football!

“The softer the ground gets, the worse it is for her, but you would like to think against this opposition she would get away with it.”

Lisnagar’s title defence to start at Wetherby

Rebecca Curtis is mapping out a Stayers’ Hurdle title defence for her Cheltenham Festival hero Lisnagar Oscar.

The seven-year-old was last seen defying odds of 50-1 to land the Grade One feature at Prestbury Park in March.

Wetherby’s West Yorkshire Hurdle on October 31 will be his first target this season, with a string of graded contests then on his schedule before the 2021 Festival.

“He’s going to go to Wetherby for his first run,” said Curtis.

“He’s ready to run, and there was nothing else for him until the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury – which is at the end of November. He’s come to hand, so we thought we’d give him an outing in that Grade Two three-mile stayers’ hurdle up there.”

Lisnagar Oscar was third behind Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham in January, and that is a race he could contest again.

“We’ll do the normal stayers’ hurdle route,” added Curtis.

“We’ll probably start at Wetherby, then Newbury and then the Long Walk hurdle at Ascot. He’ll then possibly go for the Cleeve and then straight to the Cheltenham Festival after that.”

Smiles all round for the Lisnagar Oscar team at Cheltenham
Smiles all round for the Lisnagar Oscar team at Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

This time last year Lisnagar Oscar ran twice over fences before reverting to hurdles, and that is a route Curtis is not discounting in future campaigns if he does not prosper at the highest level this season.

“I think if he can retain his ability from last year then he’ll be looking like one of the best staying hurdlers about,” she said.

“He’d stick to hurdles in that case. But if for some reason he didn’t end up keeping that Grade One class over hurdles then we may, next season, have a think about fences.

“It depends how this season goes – I wouldn’t completely rule it out.”