Cleeve king Paisley Park returns for more at Cheltenham.
Paisley Park, an 11-year-old colt whose connections are confident that his spark has been rekindled, heads to Cheltenham in search of a fourth Dahlbury Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle victory.
The fan favorite, trained by Emma Lavelle, has won the last three renewals of the Grade Two competition, but he didn’t win in 2021 because the meeting was canceled.
Paisley Park has looked as good as ever this season, even though he is getting older. He finished second to Champ by a neck in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, which will go down as arguably one of the races of the season, before winning the Long Walk for the third time at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Barry Fenton, Lavelle’s husband and assistant, believes that the Oscar gelding owned by Andrew Gemmell is in good shape as he competes against six rivals in a three-mile race that he has made his own.
“It just feels like the spark is back,” said Fenton. “When he was really well before, he would just get better with each run.
“Touch wood, he came out of Kempton really well and hasn’t missed a beat since.”
Paisley Park, who finished third in the previous two renewals to Flooring Porter and won the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2019, will compete in the Grade One contest on March 16 if everything goes according to plan.
Fenton added: “It was a good performance in the Stayers’ Hurdle last year and I think he probably wasn’t at his brightest.
“This year, even before I was saddling him at Kempton, he seemed really bright and well in himself, and he has kind of shown that at home.
“He is very willing at home, whereas last year he was making heavy weather of it a little bit.”
Due to his consistency and capacity to win from defeat, Paisley Park has amassed a large following.
Fenton admits the yard are blessed to have such a flag-bearer, saying: “I think it is massive for the yard and for racing fans to have a horse like this.
“The longer it goes on, the more special it becomes. To think he is going back to try to win a fourth Cleeve Hurdle – you just don’t get horses like that.
“He is a credit to himself. He is just one of those horses who comes back year in, year out and keeps trying for us. He is a very special horse.”
Gelino Bello returns to the smaller obstacles after winning two of three novice chases for Paul Nicholls, including the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle in April.
On Boxing Day, he finished fourth in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton. The champion trainer is eager to see how he does going back over hurdles.
“He just didn’t jump as well as he could have done at Kempton the other day. I think there were some shadows down the back straight and he lost confidence the first circuit. He was still going well when he fell at the last down the back,” said Nicholls.
“I think a run over hurdles won’t do him any harm and it might just sharpen him up a bit. If he went and won or ran very well, I’ve got the option of going for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with him. It is a bit of a fact-finding mission.
“This weekend will tell us a lot, however he is not going there for a day out, he is going there and he will be doing his damnedest to win.
“If we are going to go for a Stayers’ Hurdle, we need to beat Paisley Park or run him very close.”
After chasing Marie’s Rock home in the Relkeel Hurdle at the same track the previous time, Jeremy Scott hopes Dashel Drasher can demonstrate that he stays the trip.
The 10-year-old horse has won most of his races on flatter tracks at Ascot, Newbury, and Aintree, but based on ratings, Paisley Park is likely to win.
Scott said: “He is very well and we’re looking forward to the race. It is competitive in terms of numbers and theoretically, with the weight allowances, we are second-highest rated, but it depends whether or not he stays three miles wholly around Cheltenham.
“I didn’t think he’s given any indication he wouldn’t, so I don’t see why he won’t run well.
“He ran well there the other day and hopefully he will give a good account and it will dictate where we go from there.”
If Paisley Park returns in the same form as when he won last year, the Somerset handler knows that the horse will take some beating.
He added: “I watched Paisley Park’s race last year when he got left at the start and I felt it was a phenomenal performance – and it was run at a very solid gallop, so he is going to take an awful lot of beating.
“The joy of National Hunt racing is that people latch on to horses like him – it’s great for the sport.”
After finishing ninth to Le Milos in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury, Lord Accord returns from chasing. He is certain to stay the trip, despite being the outsider in the sextet.
His trainer, Neil Mulholland, said: “He’s been freshened up since Newbury and he’s fresh and well at the moment. But he has nicer targets in the spring and we did the same with The Druids Nephew – he ran in the Cleeve Hurdle before he won the Ultima and that is probably where Lord Accord will go.
“He handled Cheltenham when he won there in November, so we know he likes the track. We’ll give him a spin round over hurdles and see how we go.”
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