Emma Lavelle is feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement ahead of Paisley Park’s return to action in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle.
The seven-year-old was the dominant force in the division last season – enjoying an unbeaten campaign which began with a relatively low-key win at Aintree and ended with him claiming Cheltenham Festival glory in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Unheralded heading into last term, Paisley Park makes his reappearance at Newbury on Friday as one of the stars of the sport – a fact which is not lost on his trainer.
“We’re excited to get him started. Obviously there’s a fair amount of trepidation as you don’t want to get him beaten, but this is the first step of the season and he’s ready to run – you can’t keep drilling them at home forever,” she said.
Paisley Park will face four rivals in the three-mile Grade Two, including three previous winners of the race in Thistlecrack (2015), Beer Goggles (2017) and dual victor Unowhatimeanharry (2016 and 2018).
Lavelle insists she could not be happier with her stable star.
“I’m really happy with him. We’ve done as much as we can do with him at home and he’s been to Newbury twice. I’m not saying he’s not going to improve for the run – obviously March is the key date,” the Marlborough-based trainer added.
“He’s up against some smart horses and with the way the ground is, the horses that have had a run probably have an advantage.
“For us it’s about getting some match practice and we’ll take it one step at a time.”
The field is completed by Tom George’s The Worlds End, who is clashing with the Harry Fry-trained Unowhatimeanharry for the second time this term, having finished first and second respectively in the bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby four weeks ago.
The Worlds End’s triumph prompted connections to keep him over hurdles, rather than send him back over fences.
George said of his charge: “He won really nicely at Wetherby. He had a lot of issues over the summer that we have put right. He was good at what he did at Wetherby, so we thought we would stick to that.
“He has schooled OK over fences, but he didn’t really sparkle. We thought if we got that wrong it could set him back a bit, so the safest route was to stick with him over hurdles, which we know he really enjoys.
“As a novice he won a Grade One, but he had that bad fall at Cheltenham before that. He didn’t run badly in the Stayers’ Hurdle the next season, but he wasn’t where he is now.
“He is very bullish about it all and is pain free and that is probably helping him. We’ve got a run under our belt and though we maybe facing an impossible task up against Paisley Park, we will see where we are.”