Emma Lavelle could not be happier with Paisley Park as her stable star attempts to regain the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Thursday.
The Marlborough handler believes Paisley Park is the same shape he was in when he lifted the crown in 2019.
She feels he can erase the memory of 12 months ago when his seven-race winning run ended in bitter disappointment as he suffered a heart problem and finished seventh behind Lisnagar Oscar.
His two runs this season have been more like the old Paisley Park. He gave encouraging signs when failing by only a length and a half to give 3lb to Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
Paisley Park then turned the tables on Thyme Hill to win the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot for a second time when they met on equal terms.
“He’s done everything he needs to. He’s in really good order. Now we’ve got to bring our A game to the track on the day,” said Lavelle.
“Everything has gone as we wanted. The Cleeve did not happen, but that’s how it was. He’s had a racecourse gallop since then. He’s ticked over really well and, touch wood, he seems in good form.
“These races are always going to be competitive. It’s sad that his sparring partner of this season (Thyme Hill) isn’t going to be there, but hopefully it will all go to plan.
“The first year when he was winning and everything went to plan, it was just very smooth, very easy and just brilliant.
“Last year we had to do a bit more work with him. This year he seems like he was his first year. He’s stronger and very up much up for everything we’ve asked of him, so hopefully it will go smoothly in the race as well.”
Lisnagar Oscar put up a career-best performance when causing a 50-1 upset 12 months ago, and the Rebecca Curtis-trained eight-year-old defends his title after finishing runner-up to Third Wind in the Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock last month.
Flooring Porter bridged the gap from handicaps to Group One company when winning the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle.
Gavin Cromwell’s charge made all the running and found more when challenged in the closing stages to beat The Storyteller by 12 lengths.
The latter renews rivalry and is one of three runners trained by Denise Foster, along with Fury Road and Sire Du Berlais, as she minds Cullentra House Stables in County Meath while Gordon Elliott serves his suspension.
Willie Mullins’ Bacardys plus Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge give adds further strength to the Irish challenge.
It would be a tremendous training effort by Kim Bailey to get Vinndication to win this showpiece race.
The horse has not run over hurdles for over three years and has not raced since he picked up an injury in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November.
Bailey had hoped to run the eight-year-old in the Gold Cup, but opted for the Stayers’ Hurdle as he could not get a prep run into him.
Bailey felt the lack of a recent outing cost him in the Ultima Handicap Chase when he led two out, but was caught on the run-in and eventually finished fourth last term.
He will be ridden by David Bass, who is expecting a decent show from Vinndication.
“Last year I thought he was a certainty in the Ultima, but he hadn’t run since November and we couldn’t get a racecourse gallop into him and he just got tired,” he said.
“We had a discussion and felt he was just physically finding it hard over fences.
“We gave him a school over hurdles and he seemed to really enjoy it. He’s the type who could run well in the Stayers’ as he races behind the bridle. I think that track will suit him as well.”
Bailey also runs Younevercall, while the field is completed by 2019 runner-up Sam Spinner, If The Cap Fits, Lil Rockerfeller, Main Fact and Reserve Tank.