Paisley Park faces a new challenger on Saturday in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle as he comes up against If The Cap Fits in what promises to be an informative running of the Cheltenham feature.
The card is billed as Festival Trials Day and the winner of this Grade Two is likely to be favourite for the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle in March.
Currently Paisley Park is even money with some firms for the Festival contest, but should If The Cap Fits lower his colours – and officially he only has 3lb to find – then the market could turn on its head.
Paisley Park has only run once this season after being a late withdrawal at Ascot when connections deemed the ground unsuitable.
Trainer Emma Lavelle said: “Paisley Park is in great shape.
“He came out of Newbury very well and of course after last season there was a lot of pressure for us with that race, so we were delighted with that performance.
“Not running at Ascot has ended up working out well and I am very happy.
“It’s on to the Cleeve on Saturday and then back to Cheltenham in March. He is in good order and I can’t wait to run him.”
If the Cap Fits is trained by Harry Fry and he also has only had one run this season – a second win in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot – but proved he stays three miles when winning the Liverpool Hurdle at the Grand National meeting.
“It is his first run at the track, but it will give him plenty of experience of Cheltenham before the Stayers’ Hurdle in March,” said Fry.
“It will be great to finally take on Paisley Park. Our horse is improving all the time and it promises to be a fascinating race.”
Sean Bowen has taken over on If The Cap Fits since Noel Fehily’s retirement and is unbeaten on him.
He said: “He is obviously proven over three miles now so we know he will stay. His performance last time was great. He battles very hard and that will be his main attribute on Saturday. I worked him last weekend and he was in great form, so I’m looking forward to it.
“He has come right now and we are very happy with him at home, so it was probably the right thing to do by missing Ascot last month.
“He is the one up and coming and if one is capable of beating Paisley Park it might well be him. Paisley Park is a very good champion and we will see how good we are on Saturday.”
Nicky Henderson’s L’Ami Serge took his chance at Ascot in the Long Walk Hurdle and looked like winning only to be passed by the rallying The Worlds End.
Anthony Bromley, racing manager to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, told Sky Sports Racing: “L’Ami Serge is going to take on Paisley Park and If The Cap Fits. He’s in good form at home, Nicky says, so why not have a go?”
Colin Tizzard’s Kilbricken Storm won the Albert Bartlett at the Festival in 2018, but injury has prevented him fulfilling his potential.
Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “The owners were keen to give it a go and we’ll know exactly where we stand after Saturday.
“We have the option of running in a Pertemps qualifier in a couple of weeks if he’s not up to this level. We’ll see how he goes and make a plan from there.
“He’s definitely been going the right way this season, so we’ll see.”
Tom George’s Summerville Boy steps further up in trip having won the Relkeel Hurdle in good style on New Year’s Day, with William Henry, Lisnagar Oscar and Tobefair completing the field.