Stayers’ Hero Paisley Park Lands Second Long Distance Hurdle

Paisley Park was cut to 7/4 favourite (from 2/1) with Paddy Power to retain his Stayers’ Hurdle crown at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival after making a winning return to action in the 3m Long Distance Hurdle on the opening day of the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival at Newbury.

The Emma Lavelle trained seven-year-old, who landed the Grade 2 contest last season en route to enjoying his finest hour at the Cheltenham Festival when beating Sam Spinner by 2 3/4 lengths, is now unbeaten in his last six outings.

However, the Andrew Gemmell owned son of Oscar was made to battle hard after the last by Thistlecrack, who won the race in 2015, before finding plenty for pressure to win going away by a length.

It was a most taking success, especially as Paisley Park raced a bit keenly in the early stages under regular pilot Aidan Coleman and was giving the classy runner-up 6lb.

He looks sure to come on a bundle for the outing and is undoubtedly the one they all have to beat next March should all go to plan. Indeed, in my eyes he already looks one of the bankers of the four-day extravaganza and looks sure to go off odds-on if that proves to be the case.

Lavelle planning same route to Cheltenham Festival

Speaking on Racing TV, a delighted and somewhat relieved Lavelle said:

“I’m delighted for Andrew and I’m delighted for the team. As long as everything is good after today, it will be Ascot next for the Long Walk (December 21) and then the same sort of route as last season.

“It’s a massive sigh of relief. We were saying beforehand, ‘isn’t it great to have this kind of pressure’, but it did feel like quite a lot of pressure. I’m so thrilled for everybody and I’m thrilled for the horse as much as anything.

“He won well in the end and the buzz is unbelievable. To train a horse like this is a massive privilege and a responsibility as well.

“I don’t want to get him beaten for everybody, so for him to do it the way he did with the improvement still there it is just really exciting. I think he is just amazing.”

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King George next for gallant runner-up Thistlecrack

Thistlecrack, who won the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2016, travelled powerfully throughout under Tom Scudamore and looked a real threat approaching the final flight before being unable to find any extra close home when Paisley Park went into overdrive. It was a performance which confirmed the big engine was still there, and his in-form handler Colin Tizzard could not hide his delight.

Thistlecrack is now set for a third tilt at the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day – a race he won in 2016 and finished second in last season.

Tizzard said:

“He is a very good horse and showed it again today. Paisley Park is not for being beaten at the moment. We got close to him a couple of times last season and he always finds a bit more,” said the Dorset-based trainer.

Thistlecrack ran beautifully and will improve massively for that run. I couldn’t be more pleased.

“The plan is to go to the King George – we made that plan ages ago. He jumped those hurdles like fences, he’s a King George winner and was second last year, so you can’t say he’s better over hurdles.”

Betfred go a stand out top prive off 33/1 about Thistlecrack for the King George, with a couple of firms going just 14/1.

RSA favourite Champ ultimately impressive in Berkshire Novices’ Chase

On the same card, nothing went right for Champ in the 2m 4f Grade 2 Berkshire Novices’ Chase – but he still got the job done in style in the end to maintain his unbeaten record over the larger obstacles. The Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year old, who is named after 20-time champion jump jockey Sir Anthony McCoy, had won over 2m 6f at the track earlier in the month and was sent off a heavily-backed 4/5 favourite to follow-up.

However, he was lucky not to be brought down by a loose horse at the third fence where Barry Gearghty performed miracles to stay in the saddle. That seemed to unsettle Champ, resulting in him being safe rather than spectacular at the obstacles. But as they rounded the home turn he was still going well and was produced to take up the running at the last. Champ then had to survive another scare as he nearly took the wrong course on the long run-in, forcing Geraghty to snatch him up in a split second to avoid disaster. He then showed his customary turn of foot to beat Black Op going away by 1 1/4 lengths.

Given how the race panned out it was a performance which could be upgraded and Champ clearly has the talent to go right to the very top over fences.

Step back up in trip on the cards

Speaking after the race, Henderson said: “What he is quite rightly saying is, ‘there is this fool running me over two-miles-four, should we not be going two-mile-six?’, and he wanted to jump the water and go round again. He wants further.

“I’m quite keen to keep him under the three-mile radar, but I think we know where we want to finish off.

“The original plan was to come here so he could go to Cheltenham on New Year’s Day for the Dipper. That’s the plan. I want him to go round Cheltenham.

“If we go to the Dipper we can think again, but we don’t have to go three miles before the RSA. There is no doubt he stays, as he proved that at Aintree last season. “.

I was impressed by the way in which Champ got the job done and think he is a worthy ante post favourite for the RSA. Bookmakers initially weren’t, but he has since shortened slightly and is now a 7/2 shot (from 4/1) with William Hill for the Grade 1 contest.

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