Everything has gone smoothly for Emma Lavelle as she prepares Paisley Park for the defence of his Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle crown.
There is always a degree of goodwill when a champion emerges who is not trained by one of the superpowers and so far Paisley Park has looked head and shoulders above the rivals he faces on Thursday.
The scenes surrounding his victory 12 months ago, with his blind owner Andrew Gemmell listening intently to the commentary as he careered away after the final flight, were among the best of the week and plenty make him their banker of the Festival this season.
He arrives unbeaten in his last seven races and the only mild irritation for Lavelle was the very heavy ground on the day of the Long Walk Hurdle meaning he was a late absentee – but she now views that as a positive.
“Everything is fine with Paisley. We have had a good preparation with him really. It was a great relief to see him win at Newbury and then Ascot being off worked out well in the end,” she said.
“His Cheltenham performance in the Cleeve was excellent. He essentially handled a race where the others tried to beat him tactically.
“He is a huge talent and it is exciting to have a horse attempting to defend his crown in one of the championship races.”
Willie Mullins fields two, 2018 winner Penhill and Bacardys, who was a faller in the same race when looking likely to be placed.
Penhill has not been in the same sort of form this year, however, and would need to take a big step forward – but Mullins does not think it is beyond him.
“I think he needed the run the last day and that should have put him right for Cheltenham,” said Mullins.
“This year I’ve managed to get runs into him. He’s taking a lot more training and holding onto his condition, which is a good thing as he’s strong.
“He’s a horse that takes a lot of work and I think there’s improvement in him.”
Regarding Bacardys, Mullins added: “I ran him back too quick at Christmas. I probably shouldn’t have run in the Hatton’s Grace, I probably should have gone from Navan to Leopardstown.
“He likes Cheltenham and jumps reasonably well, so he has each-way potential.”
Tom George’s Summerville Boy got closer than most do to Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle on what was his first run over three miles. As a former Festival winner, he is likely to have plenty of supporters.
George said: “He has been improving all season since going back over hurdles and he is as good as we can have him. He has come on a lot and really found his feet since his last run.
“He is one of the most likely to put it up to Paisley Park. He has only had the one run over three miles and he can only improve on what he has done so far.
“That was a good stepping stone and there should be further improvement. We can change a few things round to give Paisley Park our best shot.
“We all thought he would stay, but you never know until you see it. What is good about him is he will get the trip, but as we have seen, he has the class to win a race like the Supreme which bodes well for him.”
Victory for Apple’s Jade would be almost as popular as one for Paisley Park, if not more so given the comments coming out of her camp through the season.
What is almost certain is that this is her last season racing and this race may even be her swansong.
“It is not my decision, but I would imagine she will be covered this year,” said Elliott.
“She has won 11 Grade Ones and does not owe anything to anybody. She has been the horse of a lifetime. I have said all year, though, that I don’t think she has been working as well as she did in the past.”
Colin Tizzard’s West Approach will wear cheekpieces for the first time and will be delivered late.
Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He will be ridden to get placed in it. He loves it around Cheltenham and he has some of his best form around there.
“He got within two lengths of Paisley Park last year in the Long Walk. He deserves to take his chance, but we will be looking for places at best.”