Emma Lavelle is feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement ahead of Paisley Park’s return to action in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury today.
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 as one of the stars of the sport — a fact 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 trainer added.
“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.”