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.

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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.

Coleman eager to resume Epatante connection in Fighting Fifth

Aidan Coleman is excited to renew his partnership with Epatante in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle this weekend.

The 32-year-old has been called up to ride last season’s Champion Hurdle winner in the Grade One prize after her regular rider, Barry Geraghty, announced his retirement from the saddle over the summer.

Having scored aboard the Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old on her return 12 months ago in the Gerry Feilden at Newbury, Coleman hopes the pair can achieve the same result on Saturday.

Coleman said: “It was great to have had the privilege of riding her once last season and sending her on her way. Now Barry Geraghty is retired, it is great to get back on her.

“I’ve ridden out for Nicky for a couple of years now and we’ve had plenty of winners together, but I’ve not had a lot of rides as Nicky has got his jockeys.

“I’m on the team sheet somewhere there and I get the call up every now and then.

“It’s great to ride for a trainer of his calibre and it is great to get the ride. I feel very privileged.”

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Epatante had plenty to prove on her comeback last year, having been a beaten favourite in the Grade Two mares’ novices’ hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but Coleman was confident she had the ability to climb the ranks.

He said: “I think we all thought she could go to the next level. If you rewind it six months back before that, she was nearly a banker for the Cheltenham Festival and whatever happened that day, she didn’t run her race.

“If she had run her race that day, there was no way she would have been lining up in the Gerry Feilden, but these things happen in racing.

“When she won the Gerry Feilden, she won that well and it still looked like she was progressing. It was no surprise to see her do what she did.”

Altior ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville (right) and Epatante ridden by Jerry McGrath during a recent racecourse gallop at Newbury (Andrew Matthews/PA Images)
Altior ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville (right) and Epatante ridden by Jerry McGrath during a recent racecourse gallop at Newbury (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Despite Epatante being one of the lowest-rated winners of the Champion Hurdle in the past 10 years, Coleman, who finished down the field in the race on Gumball, believes that should not take anything away from the victory.

He said: “Gumball is a front-runner a lot of the time and he was content to sit there, so the speed was on.

“It didn’t ride like a sub-standard Champion Hurdle by any means. There are vintage Champion Hurdles and good Champion Hurdles and time will tell what is what.

“There is no such thing as a bad one, I can guarantee you that.”

Not So Sleepy, who Aidan Coleman hopes will line up in opposition to Epatante (Julian Herbert/PA Images)
Not So Sleepy, who Aidan Coleman hopes will line up in opposition to Epatante (Julian Herbert/PA)

Assessing the potential opposition Epatante could face at the weekend, Coleman hopes the Hughie Morrison-trained Not So Sleepy takes up his engagement to ensure the race is run at a true pace.

He added: “It looks like it will be a competitive enough race, with the likes of Silver Streak and last year’s winner Cornerstone Lad in there.

“With Not So Sleepy in there, it looks like there could be a bit of pace. Hopefully it will be a true-run race and the best horse will win.”

Twenty-four hours earlier, Coleman will bid to claim back-to-back victories aboard Paisley Park in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.

The Emma Lavelle-trained eight-year-old will be making his first start since suffering an odds-on defeat when attempting to defend his Stayers’ Hurdle crown at the Festival.

Coleman said: “He looks and feels great at home. I schooled him last week and he seems really up for it.

“It is great to see him back. It will be great to see him have a better experience than he did at Cheltenham and what will be will be after that.”

With Paisley Park subsequently found to have an irregular heartbeat after his latest defeat, Coleman is keeping his fingers crossed the issue was a one-off.

He said: “Cheltenham didn’t go to plan, which is a shame, but these things happen when you are dealing with animals.

“He didn’t have a good time in the Stayers’ and we don’t want that to have an impact on his career going forwards.

“I just hope he has a good time and runs well and gives us something to go forward on – whether that is winning or running well in defeat.”

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.

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.

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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.”

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.

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“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.”