Paisley Park has earned a likely return trip north for another big prize after his highly-encouraging win in the valuable Racing UK Handicap Hurdle at Aintree.
Emma Lavelle’s imposing six-year-old is due back on Merseyside next month for Haydock’s Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle after seeing off fellow 4-1 joint-favourite Lygon Rock by two and a half lengths under top weight of 11st 12lb.
Paisley Park had been second in the Leamington Spa at Warwick before finishing last season in Grade One company at the Cheltenham Festival, and this was his handicap debut.
In a race over two and a half miles – bereft of four hurdles because of the low, setting sun in the straight – he ate up a near half-mile run-in to win with authority under Aidan Coleman.
Beaming Marlborough trainer Lavelle said: “I think we’ll have a look at what was the ‘Fixed Brush’ at Haydock.
“I’d be a little bit concerned we might be heading north (in the ratings), and might be pushed into different kinds of races – but always on the back of today, Haydock was going to be our next outing.”
Lavelle, whose Javert was then an honourable runner-up in the feature Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase, has had to be patient with Paisley Park.
“I was absolutely delighted with him,” she added.
“He’s still a baby mentally, and I’d say there’s probably plenty more to come – which is exciting for us, it really is.
“He was just a bit mentally backward last year, and just a bit spooky about things – learning all the time.
“We thought about going chasing with him, and I think the weather has probably saved us – because I couldn’t school him over fences on grass at home.
“So I thought ‘Oh, we’ll start him off over hurdles again ‘ and I’d say he’s probably signed his certificate to stay over hurdles for the rest of this season.”
Stoney Mountain floored odds-on favourite Aye Aye Charlie in the opening Countryside Raceday Maiden Hurdle to give Richard Johnson and Henry Daly another success in Trevor Hemmings’ colours.
The five-year-old, a dual bumper winner last season but a debutant over hurdles, wore down the favourite after the last to score by a neck at 7-2.
Daly was impressed, but Stoney Mountain’s win was no shock.
“I was a bit surprised when he won the bumper with a penalty – but I’m less surprised by today’s performance,” said the trainer.
“He’s hard as nails, jumped beautifully – a bit close to the first, then I don’t think he touched anything else.”
There were some interesting colours in the winner’s enclosure too after the Kay Pinfold 100th Birthday Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
Jonjo O’Neill junior got Ready And Able home in front for his handicap hat-trick as the 4-1 favourite for his father, Jono, by three lengths from long-time leader Settimo Milanese, to provide owner Michael Tabor with a winner to celebrate his 77th birthday.
The Coolmore big-hitter was not in attendance, politely leaving the stage clear for Mrs Pinfold.
After speaking briefly with the centenarian, young jockey O’Neill confirmed she is not entirely conversant with his work just yet – but is still very much a fan of his dad’s.
“It’s amazing. She used to watch dad on TV when he was riding,” he said.
“She sounds like she’s a massive horseracing fan.”
The equine veterans were in action half an hour later, and it was 5-1 shot Exitas who easily got the better of favourite Beat That.
Phil Middleton’s durable 10-year-old was having his 12th run of the season in the Rewards4Racing Veterans’ Handicap Chase, and duly chalked up his second win of the campaign by an emphatic 11 lengths under 7lb claimer Lorcan Williams.
Harry Skelton rode fencing debutant Molly The Dolly to a two-length win for his brother Dan in the Molson Coors Chase, at 8-1 from 40-1 outsider Traditional Dancer.
Briery Express took the concluding EBF British Stallion Studs Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race by one and a quarter lengths at 14-1, for jockey Wayne Hutchinson and trainer Noel Williams.