The 3m Stayers Hurdle is one of three Grade 1 races on day three of the Cheltenham Festival this Thursday (15:30), and Paisley Park has leading form claims based on his progressive profile.
Trained by Emma Lavelle, the seven-year-old has taken his form to a new level this season. Although disappointing in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago, Paisley Park simply didn’t take to wearing a visor.
That was a lesson learned and he progressed through handicap company to score by half-a-length at Haydock when back up over 3m.
Paisley Park came with a very strong run to get up close home and beat Shades Of Midnight, who has since advertised the form by winning both a chase and the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle back on Merseyside.
The winner, meanwhile, stepped back into Grade 1 company and was value for more than the winning margin of a couple of lengths in the JLT Long Walk at Ascot.
Based on that display and his subsequent course and distance success in the Cleeve Hurdle on Festival Trials Day, Paisley Park has nothing to fear from the re-opposing runner-up on both occasions, West Approach.
That is a good yardstick to measure him by, not least because that rival’s half-brother is Thistlecrack, who won this in 2016.
A 12-length victory in the Cleeve has earned Paisley Park the highest rating here. Faugheen apart, he is 6lb and upwards clear of the rest.
Any repeat of his last run is going to make him very difficult to beat, so Paisley Park is thus a worthy 15/8 favourite with Paddy Power.
One last hurrah for Faugheen?
With defending Stayers’ Hurdle champion Penhill out injured, the Willie Mullins contingent in the race is led by popular veteran Faugheen.
Now 11, he is four years older than Paisley Park but did record his last Grade 1 success over the 3m trip of this race.
That came at the Punchestown Festival where Faugheen was 13 lengths better than Penhill. Although things have seldom been straightforward for the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner since his big Cheltenham Festival triumph, it’s a case of the further the better these days.
Faugheen was beaten by fellow Rich and Susannah Ricci owned stable companion Sharjah on reappearance in the Morgiana Hurdle back down over 2m at Punchestown.
He then fell two out when a couple of lengths behind Apple’s Jade in the Christmas Hurdle, but was clear of the others.
This is no easier because of the upward curve Paisley Park is on and the presence of consistent Grade 1 performer Supasundae.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more popular winner at the Cheltenham Festival than Faugheen though, and if there is to be one more moment in the limelight it’s probably going to be in this.
As the closest to the favourite on ratings, he is entitled to head those behind Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle better at 9/2 with 888Sport.
Putting all sentiment to one side, Faugheen isn’t open to any more progress as the elder statesman in the line-up and might be best avoided.
Supasundae a solid each-way bet
The aforementioned Supasundae is one of the most consistent horses at the highest level in recent times.
Trained by Jessica Harrington for Alan and Ann Potts Limited, the nine-year-old probably has an optimum trip of around two-and-a-half miles, but there are few top class hurdle races over that distance.
Supasundae won the Grade 3 Coral Cup at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival before only finding Penhill a length too good in this race 12 months ago.
He has placed in more than half of his 19 hurdles starts, also winning five. Those include 10 appearances at Grade 1 level.
After beating Faugheen by 2 1/4 lengths in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last year, their rematch over 1m further is a fascinating subplot.
Supasundae often finishes second, so the each-way and to be placed betting could prove profitable for punters. He’s run into Apple’s Jade four times and had to give 7lb to the wonder mare each time, so things might have been very different off level weights.
As Supasundae also landed the Punchestown Champion Hurdle he has the class needed to win Grade 1 races. Whether he too proves vulnerable to the young improver Paisley Park remains to be seen.
Given how reliable Supasundae is at this level though, he is certainly a solid each-way punt at 8/1 with William Hill and exploring the to be placed option must be considered.
Black Op, West Approach worse off at weights from Cleeve
The horses in-behind Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle all have plenty to find. Black Op has had an aborted chase campaign, but never finished outside the first three in four career starts at Cheltenham.
Trained by Tom George, the eight-year-old landed a Grade 1 in really game fashion on his final start last season at Aintree.
Black Op found just enough for plenty of pressure from leading JLT Novices’ Chase contender Lostintranslation to score by half-a-length.
Although making mistakes over fences, he could come on for the return to hurdles when third in the Cleeve last time out, but he’s 3lb worse off at the weights.
West Approach has twice chased Paisley Park home but no longer gets 6lb from the favourite. The placings with Colin Tizzard’s charge from Ascot were confirmed over course and distance.
He is trading at a very big price of 33/1 with William Hill, however, and is relative each-way value compared to Black Op.
Sam Spinner, who disappointed when sent off favourite for this 12 months ago, looks to have been a flash in the pan.
This northern raider trained by Jedd O’Keeffe has 24 lengths to find on Paisley Park from the Cleeve where he was fourth and jockey Joe Colliver is due in court on the day of the race.
Course specialist Wholestone ran too poorly to be true last time out, so may be worth forgiving that run. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge blundered two out and that put paid to any challenge.
He had made some eye-catching headway prior to the mistake, so it’d be no surprise to see him shape better at large 40/1 odds also at William Hill.
Top Notch, Kilbricken Storm back over hurdles
Wholestone’s owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede are double-handed in the Stayers courtesy of Top Notch.
This Nicky Henderson trained eight-year-old was third in the JLT Long Walk on reappearance when beaten 5 3/4 lengths by Paisley Park, but has since scored over fences in a competitive Listed contest at Kempton.
Although the Ryanair Chase also on this card was the intended target for Top Notch, connections changed their mind and rerouted him to this.
It’s an intriguing switch and he has to figure in the each-way betting equation on his Ascot run at 14/1 with Ladbrokes.
Last year’s Albert Bartlett winner Kilbricken Storm also reverts to hurdles here after not being at all convincing over fences.
Also trained by Tizzard, this eight-year-old was something of a surprise package at the Cheltenham Festival 12 months ago. He was returned at 33/1 and simply handled the conditions better than more illustrious rivals.
Given those who finished in-behind Kilbricken Storm in the Albert Bartlett were leading fancies for either the National Hunt Chase or RSA Chase this year, stamina isn’t a problem.
The issue instead is he hasn’t had the benefit of an outing over hurdles this season like Top Notch, yet the pair are trading at similar prices.
Drying ground at Cheltenham by the time the Stayers comes around may work against Kilbricken Storm, who has posted his best form on softer surfaces.
Mullins mob-handed despite Penhill absence
On top of Faugheen, Mullins also saddles three others in the race. Bacardys has been very disappointing of late failing to complete far too often over either set of obstacles. This is a tough place to go on the comeback trail.
Coquin Mans is no more appealing either on two poor runs when reasonably support in the market both times this season.
Bapaume has improved for each outing, however, and chased home Ireland’s leading Cheltenham Gold Cup hopeful Presenting Percy in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle last time out.
There may be even more to come from the six-year-old who is 25/1 with Coral in this.
Yanworth is another on the comeback trail for Alan King and must shape better than when pulled up in the Rendlesham Hurdle on his belated reappearance.
He could come on for the run, but was very disappointing after a long spell on the sidelines. It looks a huge ask for the remainder.
Petit Mouchoir tackles 3m for the first time over hurdles. Huge prices are on offer for Keeper Hill, Man Of Plenty, Nautical Nitwit and The Mighty Don, but that reflects how they all have a mountain to climb on all known form.