Paisley Park is set to face nine rivals in his bid for back-to-back victories in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
The 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle hero made a winning reappearance in this Grade Two contest 12 months ago – and after adding a second Cleeve Hurdle to his CV at Cheltenham in January, he was unsurprisingly a red-hot favourite to successfully defend his crown at the Festival.
However, Paisley Park could finish only seventh at the showpiece meeting in March, after which he was found to be suffering from a heart problem which later rectified itself.
Nevertheless, Emma Lavelle’s stable star will return with something to prove in Friday’s feature.
The horse rated the biggest threat to Paisley Park by bookmakers is the Paul Nicholls-trained McFabulous, who rounded off last season with victory in the EBF Final at Kempton and made a successful start to the new campaign in the Persian War at Chepstow last month.
Last season’s shock Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar, trained by Rebecca Curtis, will be expected to strip fitter for a comeback run at Wetherby, when fourth in the West Yorkshire Hurdle.
Tom George will be hoping Summerville Boy can build on a recent Aintree success, while the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill – one of last season’s star staying novice hurdlers – makes his first start since finishing a close-up fourth in the Albert Bartlett.
Jedd O’Keeffe’s Sam Spinner reverts to the smaller obstacles, after being pulled up in the early stages of the Charlie Hall at Wetherby.
Aux Ptits Soins (Dan Skelton), Honest Vic (Henry Daly), One Night In Milan (Keith Dalgleish) and Vision Des Flos (Colin Tizzard) complete the line-up, with Alan King’s Who Dares Wins the only horse not declared from the confirmation stage.
Just three runners go to post for the other Grade Two on Friday’s card – the Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Novices’ Chase.
Recent winners of this two-and-a-half-mile contest include a couple of Cheltenham Gold Cup winners in Bobs Worth (2011) and Coneygree (2014), dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux (2016), high-class mare La Bague Au Roi (2018) and Champ (2019).
The likely favourite for this year’s renewal is Tizzard’s Fiddlerontheroof, who was runner-up to If The Cap Fits on his chasing debut, before getting off the mark with a narrow verdict at Exeter little over a fortnight ago.
His two rivals are Nicky Henderson’s Caribean Boy, off the track since winning at Haydock in February, and the Nicholls-trained Getaway Trump – who has won twice from four starts over fences this term.