Paisley Park picked up where he left off last season with a battling success in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
Emma Lavelle’s charge was the dominant force in the division last season, winning each of his four starts, including the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Making his first competitive appearance since that landmark victory, the seven-year-old was the 8-15 favourite in the hands of regular partner Aidan Coleman – and ultimately got the job done in good style.
Paisley Park faced just 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).
The Worlds End took the quintet along for much of the way, but was passed by both Paisley Park and Colin Tizzard’s veteran Thistlecrack on the run to the final flight.
In receipt of 6lb, Thistlecrack did not go down without a fight, but Paisley Park was always getting the better of the argument on the run-in and won with a length in hand.
Lavelle said: “I’m delighted for Andrew (Gemmell, owner) and I’m delighted for the team. As long as everything is good after today, it will be Ascot next for the Long Walk (December 21) and then the same sort of route as last season.
“It’s a massive sigh of relief. We were saying beforehand, ‘isn’t it great to have this kind of pressure’, but it did feel like quite a lot of pressure. I’m so thrilled for everybody and I’m thrilled for the horse as much as anything.
“He won well in the end and the buzz is unbelievable. To train a horse like this is a massive privilege and a responsibility as well.
“I don’t want to get him beaten for everybody, so for him to do it the way he did with the improvement still there it is just really exciting.
“I think he is just amazing.”
Paddy Power reacted by trimming the winner to 7-4 favourite (from 2-1) to successfully defend his Stayers’ Hurdle crown.
Tizzard was unsurprisingly thrilled with the performance of Thistlecrack, who is now set for a third tilt at the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day – a race he won in 2016 and finished second in last season.
“He is a very good horse and showed it again today. Paisley Park is not for being beaten at the moment. We got close to him a couple of times last season and he always finds a bit more,” said the Dorset-based trainer.
“Thistlecrack ran beautifully and will improve massively for that run. I couldn’t be more pleased.
“The plan is to go to the King George – we made that plan ages ago. He jumped those hurdles like fences, he’s a King George winner and was second last year, so you can’t say he’s better over hurdles.
“We can’t not go because of (stablemate) Lostintranslation.”