The Cheltenham Festival continues apace on day three with six more Graded events on another seven-race card.
Thursday is headlined by the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, a three-mile stamina test of the hurdling division’s toughest horses.
Paisley Park will attempt to defend his crown after striding to a memorable two-and-three-quarter-length victory last year.
The eight-year-old has won seven successive races and looks to retain an unbeaten sequence since graduating from the novice ranks.
Bryony Frost and Frodon also bid to retain a title lifted at last season’s Festival, this time the Ryanair Chase.
Frost, who became the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 contest over jumps at the showpiece meeting 12 months ago, is opposed by Rachael Blackmore and her highly-fancied mount A Plus Tard.
The card is supported by a renewal of the Marsh Novices’ Chase which includes the much-loved veteran Faugheen, whose belated but already highly-successful chasing career would be topped by a Festival win over fences.
Is Paisley Park peerless?
Paisley Park bids for a second successive Stayers’ Hurdle after enjoying a perfect run of form since last year’s victory – winning both the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham this season. With Benie Des Dieux targeted instead at the Mares’ Hurdle – in which she had to settle for second on Tuesday – Emma Lavelle’s star is almost certain to be sent off an odds-on favourite.
The Frost and Frodon fairytale
Bryony Frost made headlines when becoming the first female jockey to lift a Grade 1 jumps title at the Cheltenham Festival last year – and she looks to repeat the victory this year aboard the same horse Frodon in the same race, the Ryanair Chase. A second win in the contest would make the gelding, trained by Paul Nicholls, only the second horse to ever follow up in the race in its 15-year history.
Brilliant Blackmore back for more
Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a breakthrough Festival last season when riding two winners. She came into this year’s meeting with an enviably strong book of rides, and already has a Grade 1 winner to her name – on Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle. Her partnership with A Plus Tard in the Ryanair Chase is one of her best chances of another Festival success after the duo teamed up to take the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase last year.
Minella Melody heads the mares
Blackmore is also set to ride the market leader in the Daylesford Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, Henry de Bromhead’s Minella Melody. The six-year-old has not been beaten in three starts over hurdles and now steps up to Grade 2 company, having already secured black-type form with Listed and Grade 3 victories.
Festival favourite Faugheen returns over fences
The ever-popular Faugheen continues his resurgence as he takes his chance in the Grade One Marsh Novices’ Chase, in the veteran stage of his career at the age of 12. Having had a sterling hurdling career, Willie Mullins’ evergreen star struggled initially to sustain his best form upon return from a mid-career injury but seems to have thrived since being introduced to the larger obstacles. Unbeaten over fences, with two Grade 1 chasing victories to his name, there would be no more popular winner at Prestbury Park this week.