Paisley Park© Photo Healy Racing
Emma Lavelle can see no reason not to run Paisley Park in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.
With a Grade One win in the Long Walk Hurdle already in the bag, he carries a 6lb penalty back down in Grade Two company.
Unbeaten in three outings this season, Paisley Park could have headed to the Cheltenham Festival fresh — but Lavelle is hoping to strike while the iron is hot.
“He seems to be in really good form. He schooled well during the week and we’re very happy with him,” said Lavelle.
“It would have been easy to say he’s won his Grade One this season and he’s unbeaten, so let’s just go straight for the Stayers’ Hurdle.
“However, he is really well and horses aren’t really well all the time, so I think we should run him.
“He hasn’t a lot of experience in his life and it will be good to give him another run at Cheltenham. We’ll see how we go.”
Midnight Shadow was an impressive winner of the Relkeel Hurdle for Sue Smith and Danny Cook on New Year’s Day, and will try three miles for the first time.
“Obviously it’s a step up in trip, but it seems like it should suit him and he’s in great form at home, everyone is looking forward to going down,” said Cook.
“He went through the Relkeel really well — my biggest problem there was not hitting the front too soon, but when I did ask him he really picked up well and put the race to bed.
“He won the Scottish Champion Hurdle over two miles so if he does stay three — with that turn of foot it’s a potent weapon.
“He’s only just turned six, he’s a big strong horse and hopefully when he goes over fences next year he’ll be a real animal, but we’re all excited about this year first and what it holds.”
Also in the mix are a couple of smart horses returning to hurdles having not convinced over fences, including former Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Lil Rockerfeller and last season’s Neptune second Black Op, trained by Tom George.
“He’s in good form,” said George
“It wasn’t an easy decision to put him back over hurdles, but the problem was we missed so much of the year so he couldn’t get much match practice.
“He’s had a few lessons with Yogi Breisner, but we really needed two or three weeks not two or three days. That could have ended up jeopardising him so we’re going back over hurdles and we’ll see how we get on.”
Last year’s winner Agrapart, last season’s beaten Stayers’ Hurdle favourite Sam Spinner, Dan Skelton’s Aux Ptits Soins, and the consistent Wholestone all arrive with chances.
Fergal O’Brien is also hoping for a better showing from his novice Aye Aye Charlie.
“He was disappointing at Cheltenham last time, but it was horrible ground and we didn’t ride him how we wanted to as I wanted to be a bit more forward, but I think if we went to the Cleeve and dropped him in we could have a nice time around there,” said O’Brien.
“The Cleeve has got some of those chasers coming back in, but we have form with Black Op as we were not far behind him at Aintree.”
Unowhatimeanharry took this prize in 2017 but Harry Fry’s stayer has to bounce back from a fall in the JLT Hurdle last time out.
“It was just unfortunate that he tipped up the last day at Ascot. It looks competitive but he’s in good form and he rarely runs a bad race,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner J P McManus.