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Flooring Porter out to cap brilliant campaign

Cheltenham hero Flooring Porter bids to follow up in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown.

It is remarkable to think the six-year-old was rated in the low 120s this time last year, since when he has made huge strides.

A runaway handicap success at Navan was followed by a surprise Grade One victory at Leopardstown over Christmas, but he proved that was no fluke with an excellent front-running display in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last month.

Cromwell is keeping his fingers crossed Flooring Porter’s latest big-race assignment does not prove one too many on Thursday as he faces his seventh outing since racing resumed in July.

“He’s come out of Cheltenham well,” said the Meath-based trainer.

“He had a hard race there – he wears his heart on his sleeve. But he seems to have freshened up well, and we’re happy with him.

“For all of these horses, it’s been a long season. They may seem well at home, but you don’t really know till you go there.”

Cromwell’s stable jockey Jonathan Moore missed the ride at Cheltenham after standing himself down on the morning of the race.

Jonathan Moore (left) with Flooring Porter after winning at Cheltenham
Jonathan Moore (left) with Flooring Porter after winning at Cheltenham (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Danny Mullins played the role of super-sub in the Cotswolds, but Moore will be back on board this week.

Cromwell added: “He had a winner last week, so he’ll be riding him.

“It would be great for him (Moore) if he could win, absolutely.”

Flooring Porter is reopposed by several horses who finished behind him at Cheltenham, including Noel Meade’s fourth home Beacon Edge and the fifth The Storyteller, trained by Denise Foster.

The Storyteller is one of two runners for the Cullentra team – along with Fury Road, who disappointed at Prestbury Park.

Of The Storyteller, Foster said: “He is a great favourite in the yard and he’s such a lovely, versatile horse as he has shown throughout this season.

“He has run some great races at Grade One level and he’s such an honest horse as he always turns up and gives his all.”

Heaven Help Us and Mrs Milner step up in class after sealing popular wins in handicap company at Cheltenham.

Heaven Help Us winning the Coral Cup at Cheltenham
Heaven Help Us winning the Coral Cup at Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

Paul Hennessy’s Heaven Help Us landed the fiercely competitive Coral Cup, while the Paul Nolan-trained Mrs Milner impressed in winning the Pertemps Final.

Hennessy said: “We’re going to give it a go, and the trip swayed us to running in this race more than anything else. She’s been in great form since Cheltenham – she came out of the race in tremendous form, and there’s not a bother on her.

“I know it’s a big step up, but we’ve long been living in bonus territory with this mare, and it’s great to be involved and have the opportunity to compete at this level.”

Nolan is similarly aware of the task facing Mrs Milner.

He said: “It’s a very competitive race and a big step up for her. But we were absolutely thrilled with the win at Cheltenham, and she doesn’t owe us anything.

“She seems in good form, and we’re hoping for a respectable run as she’s nearly always given us before. She always runs a creditable race and seems to be a mare that is improving.”

Ronald Pump is a fascinating contender for Matthew Smith. Runner-up in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last year, the eight-year-old has been off the track since pushing brilliant mare Honeysuckle all the way in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse.

Explaining his stable star’s absence, Smith said: “He missed Christmas with a stone bruise and then he had a splint bothering him before Cheltenham.

“He got over that, and everything was going well then until he overreached when he was cantering about a week and a half ago. He was lame for a couple of days, which meant he missed a piece of work he probably would have badly needed.

“He could come on for the run on Thursday, but we’ll be glad to get him out. Whether he’s a piece of work or two short, we’ll find out.

Klassical Dream returns to action
Klassical Dream returns to action (Niall Carson/PA)

“Things haven’t been straightforward since the Hatton’s Grace, but these things happen with horses.

“We’ll run on Thursday – and if everything goes well and he comes out of it well, we have the option of taking him to France.”

Willie Mullins saddles Stayers’ Hurdle seventh Bacardys and the long-absent Klassical Dream, as well as Saldier and James Du Berlais, who both step up in distance after failing to figure in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The sole British-trained in a 15-strong field is Jane Williams’ Agrapart, with Meade’s second string Diol Ker, the Mouse Morris-trained French Dynamite and Sole Pretender from Norman Lee’s yard completing the field.

Paisley Park bids for fourth Grade One at Aintree

Paisley Park heads a field of 15 for the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle at Aintree.

Emma Lavelle’s nine-year-old bids for a fourth Grade One triumph on Saturday, having won the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2019 and Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in 2018 and 2020.

He arrives at Liverpool after finishing third to Flooring Porter this time in last month’s Stayers’ at Cheltenham.

His rivals include the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill, who was just beaten by Paisley Park in the Long Walk but then missed the Cheltenham Festival.

Others in the mix include 2020 Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar and If The Cap Fits and Roksana – first and second in the last running of this race in 2019 – and Nicky Henderson’s pair of Call Mr Lord and On The Blind Side.

Henderson’s exciting young star Shishkin will face just four rivals in the Doom Bar Maghull Novices’ Chase.

The seven-year-old has won all his four starts over fences so far, culminating in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham.

Taking him on are Elvis Mail, Funambule Sivola, Gumball and Longhouse Sale.

The third Grade One contest on the Grand National card is the Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle.

Thirteen horses were initially declared on Thursday morning – but Ballybeg, trained by Kerry Lee, is a subsequent non-runner.

Of the dozen left, Henry de Bromhead’s Ballyadam bids to go one better after finishing second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The other contender from across the Irish Sea is Ronan McNally’s Dreal Deal, who goes for a seventh consecutive win, over hurdles and on the Flat. He has not run since January and missed Cheltenham because the stable was under a cloud.

Dan Skelton’s My Drogo has looked good in winning all his three starts over hurdles – while Adrimel, Lucky One and Minella Drama are among others to consider.

Flooring Porter powers to all-the-way Stayers’ Hurdle success

Danny Mullins finally got his first Cheltenham Festival winner when making the most of a chance ride on Flooring Porter in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.

Mullins had gone so close many times in the past, but was fortunate enough to pick up the mount after Jonathan Moore, who led the horse up, had to miss the ride through injury.

Flooring Porter, trained by Gavin Cromwell, was a handicapper earlier in the season – but showed he was much better than that when winning the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.

He made all that day and the same tactics were deployed again to great effect.

No horse could get close enough to threaten the 12-1 winner, who powered up the hill to cross the line three and a quarter lengths ahead of Sire Du Berlais.

Paisley Park, winner in 2019, tried hard in defeat, a length and three-quarters away in third place. Beacon Edge was another half a length back in fourth.

A recent fall had left Moore him facing a race against time to make Cheltenham. He had a sit on his proposed big-race mount, but declared himself unfit and recommended Mullins to Cromwell.

Cromwell praised the selflessness of Moore and said: “It was a huge performance and a smashing ride. It was a big blow for Jonathan, he made the decision himself that he wouldn’t do the horse justice.

“He suggested Danny would be suited to the horse and it was all down to Jonny’s instructions.

“Hats off to Johnny, he’s so unselfish – he thought he wouldn’t do the horse justice, so I’m very grateful. He actually sat on him.”

Cromwell had mentioned prior to the Festival he was worried about the fact there was no rail the whole way round, as Flooring Porter has lugged left in the past. But there were no signs of any misdemeanours.

“He ran straight and true today, bar going right at the last. Other than that he was grand,” said Cromwell.

“He won a Grade B handicap at Navan when it wasn’t the plan to make the running. He decided on his tactics so we went along with it.

“We won the Champion Hurdle a few years ago so to win another championship race is fantastic.

“The owners are a syndicate from Galway, they are a great bunch and it’s an awful pity they can’t be here.

“Everybody knows how hard it is to get a good horse. We came across this lad by accident, he was a very cheap store so it’s a bit of a fairytale really – it just goes to show dreams can still happen.”

Mullins was also quick to pay tribute to Moore.

Flooring Porter and Danny Mullins were poetry in motion
Flooring Porter and Danny Mullins were poetry in motion (Michael Steele/PA)

He said: “It was fantastic. He’s a very good horse. I got the call-up about an hour beforehand and in fairness to Jonathan Moore he gave me every bit of information he had about the horse.

“Credit to him. He knew he wasn’t in good shape this morning and stood himself down – it’s the mark of a great man.

“Jonathan wanted everything to go well and I’m sure he’ll be back for Punchestown and well able to reunite the partnership.

“It’s fantastic to get my first winner on the board at Cheltenham, in a Grade One as well.

“I know there’s no crowd here, but I’m really enjoying it that’s for sure.”

Emma Lavelle was proud of the effort of Paisley Park, who returned with a heart complaint when beaten last year.

She said: “I’m really pleased with him, although I can’t say I’m not disappointed as well because at the end of the day we didn’t win.

“He’s run flat out from start to finish and just couldn’t go any faster. The winner has gone some gallop and kept going. We had to use him to get there and just couldn’t get to where we needed him.

Paisley Park (left) was a brave third
Paisley Park (left) was a brave third (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Probably having missed the trial race here it wasn’t fitness that got him beat but probably a little sharpness, as he hadn’t run since before Christmas. He’s run a super race and all credit to Flooring Porter.”

Asked about Aintree and Punchestown, Lavelle continued: “We’ll see how he is after this, but he hasn’t had a busy season and I’d say we’ll definitely have a look at those races.”

He was ridden by Aidan Coleman, who said: “He’s shown a great attitude and fair play to the horse, but I was flat out the whole way – simple as. I couldn’t really get into it and when I did I’d probably used my energy to get there, but he tried everywhere and I’m very proud of him.

“That was some gallop, so fair play to the winner. It was a very good ride on the winner too, as he got a breather into him down the back and we’ve closed up a bit, but by the time we got into some sort of a position he was able to go on again.”

Cheltenham Festival day three – Paisley bidding to reclaim Stayers’ crown

The Thursday of Cheltenham offers three Grade One contests, with the card headlined by Paisley Park’s Festival comeback in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

The Paddy Power-sponsored event may be the joint-feature, but the opening race of the third day is equally fascinating as the unbeaten Envoi Allen bids for the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

The Ryanair Chase shares top billing, with Willie Mullins seemingly holding all of the aces with his highly-fancied trio of runners.

There are then large-field handicaps for punters to solve, with the running of the Pertemps Network Final and the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase, after which the Grade Two Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle looks set to be dominated by Irish runners and riders.

Infallible Envoi?

Envoi Allen winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
Envoi Allen winning the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Envoi Allen heads to the Marsh Novices’ Chase with a flawless record of 11 runs and 11 victories, the most recent of which was a comfortable success in the Killiney Novice Chase at Punchestown. He has since switched to the yard of Henry de Bromhead after departing Gordon Elliott’s stable and the eyes of the racing world will be on the seven-year-old as he bids to confirm his superstar status.

Mullins the man to beat, again

Min has been a fine servant to the Willie Mullins yard
Min has been a fine servant to the Willie Mullins yard (Tim Goode/PA)

The market can barely split the three Mullins runners that head the field for the Ryanair, with Allaho, Melon and Min all expected to shine. Out of the trio only Allaho was a winner last time out, but Min has the superior Cheltenham form, having been successful 12 months ago, and Melon was only a nose off taking the Marsh Novices’ Chase last year.

People’s horse Paisley on the comeback trail

Paisley Park would be a hugely popular winner
Paisley Park would be a hugely popular winner (David Davies/PA)

Paisley Park would be hugely popular winner if he were to triumph for Emma Lavelle in the Stayers’ Hurdle. He won the race in 2019 but was well beaten last season when suffering with an irregular heartbeat. After treatment he has bounced back to his best this term and is highly-fancied after the main threat to his success, Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill, was ruled out with a minor injury. Rebecca Curtis’ Lisnagar Oscar was a shock 50-1 winner last season and is back for more.

Novice mares meet again

Royal Kahala is another leading contender for Ireland
Royal Kahala is another leading contender for Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Royal Kahala and Roseys Hollow will meet again in the the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, with the latter having prevailed by two lengths when the two crossed paths in the Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last time out. Willie Mullins also has a live chance in the race as Hook Up reverts to her own sex after finishing fourth behind Appreciate It in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Paisley Park heads 15 seeking Stayers’ Hurdle gold

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.

Sire Du Berlais is one of three runners for Denise Foster
Sire Du Berlais is one of three runners for Denise Foster (PA)

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.

Paisley Park tops 18 in contention for Stayers’ Hurdle prize

Paisley Park is the star name among 18 confirmations for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Following the defection of market rival Thyme Hill on Friday morning, Emma Lavelle’s stable star will be a hot favourite to regain his crown in Thursday’s Grade One showpiece, having suffered a heart problem when bidding for back-to-back victories 12 months ago.

The nine-year-old has bounced back to form this season – filling the runner-up spot behind Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November, before reversing the form in a thrilling renewal of the Long Walk at Ascot the following month.

Dan Skelton has confirmed Roksana off the back of the news Thyme Hill will miss out due to injury, but is still favouring an outing in Tuesday’s Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle – a race she won in 2019.

Roksana retains a Stayers' Hurdle entry
Roksana retains a Stayers’ Hurdle entry (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Skelton said: “I wasn’t going to confirm her for the Stayers’, but when I saw the news (about Thyme Hill) I did, because it just gives us a little bit more time to consider and look at forecasts etc.

“I don’t think Thyme Hill coming out is going to make any difference, but at the same time, I have confirmed her to give ourselves the option.

“We are still leaning towards the Mares’ Hurdle as things stand.”

Denise Foster – who has taken over the licence from the suspended Gordon Elliott – has a trio of interesting contenders, with dual Pertemps Final winner Sire Du Berlais joined by The Storyteller and Fury Road.

Other potential challengers from Ireland include Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter and the Willie Mullins-trained Bacardys.

Last year’s shock Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar is in the mix again for Rebecca Curtis, while Kim Bailey looks set to saddle both Vinndication and Younevercall.

Beacon Edge, Diol Ker, If The Cap Fits, Lil Rockerfeller, Main Fact, Reserve Tank, Sam Spinner and Heaven Help Us are the other hopefuls.

Paisley Park raring to go as Stayers’ Hurdle date approaches

Emma Lavelle is counting down the days to Paisley Park’s bid to regain his crown in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The nine-year-old looked set to dominate the division for years to come when claiming Festival glory in 2019, but was found to be suffering from a heart problem when bidding for back-to-back victories 12 months ago.

However, Lavelle’s stable has bounced back to something like his best this season – chasing home Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, before reversing that form in a thrilling Long Walk at Ascot.

The pair are set to renew rivalry in what promises to be one of the clashes of the meeting in a fortnight’s time – and for Lavelle, the race cannot come soon enough, such is the well being of her pride and joy.

Lavelle said: “Everything is absolutely great – I wish it was next week.

“We just want to try and keep everything right. I’m really, really happy with him.”

Paisley Park is the marginal favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at 100-30, with the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill a 7-2 chance.

Curtis buoyed by timely return to form of Lisnagar Oscar

Rebecca Curtis can approach the defence of Lisnagar Oscar’s Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle crown with vigour following a return to form at Haydock.

A shock winner of the race last season, the eight-year-old had disappointed twice this season before a problem with his breathing was diagnosed.

Having had a subsequent operation to fix it, Lisnagar Oscar ran right to the line when second to Third Wind – giving him 6lb – in the Rendlesham Hurdle on Saturday.

“He’s come out of the race really well, I’m very happy with him,” said Curtis.

“It was a good run giving the weight away. I know he’s won at Haydock, but it wouldn’t be the ideal track for him so we made plenty of use of him.

“He had a long time off so hopefully he’ll strip a bit fitter for it, but I couldn’t be happier with him – he’s in great form now for Cheltenham.

“At Newbury you could tell there was a problem, he travelled great to two out then stopped. He’d never had a wind problem before, but it was quite obvious it was catching him out.

“It’s brilliant that it’s worked and we’ve got him back. He’s only eight.”

Rebecca Curtis has high hopes for Lisnagar Oscar at Cheltenham
Rebecca Curtis has high hopes for Lisnagar Oscar at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

Lisnagar Oscar was a 50-1 winner at the Festival 12 months ago and while he may not be as big a price this time around, he will still be among the outsiders. The sponsors currently have him at 16-1.

“He’s never really fancied, I suppose I can see why, for the last two seasons his form in the first half of the season hasn’t been good, but you’d have to be fairly confident after his last run,” she said.

“If he’s in the same sort of form as last year he’d have to have a good chance.”

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.

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.