Paisley Park and Thyme Hill are set to do battle once more in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park emerged as the dominant force in the division when claiming the Grade 1 prize in 2019, but was found to be suffering from a fibrillating heart when failing to fire in last season’s renewal.
The nine-year-old has bounced back to something like his best this term – filling the runner-up spot behind the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, before reversing that form in an epic climax to the Long Walk at Ascot.
The pair remain on course for a mouthwatering third clash at the Festival on March 18th, for which there are 51 entries.
Gordon Elliott has a strong hand, with his four-strong team headed by dual Festival winner Sire Du Berlais.
The J.P. McManus-owned gelding has won the Pertemps Final in each of the past two seasons and made a successful start to the current campaign in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan in November.
Sire Du Berlais had to settle for minor honours on his latest appearance at Leopardstown over the Christmas period behind Gavin Cromwell’s surprise winner Flooring Porter, who is also in Stayers’ Hurdle contention.
Elliott also has The Storyteller, Commander Of Fleet and Fury Road in the mix, while Willie Mullins has entered six horses for a race he has won twice in recent years with Nichols Canyon (2017) and Penhill (2018).
The Closutton maestro’s sextet includes last year’s third Bacardys, top-class mare Benie Des Dieux and triple Grade 1-winning chaser Kemboy, who has not run over hurdles in nearly four years.
Nicky Henderson has entered Gold Cup contender Champ, while shock 2019 winner Lisnagar Oscar (Rebecca Curtis), runner-up Ronald Pump (Matthew Smith), McFabulous (Paul Nicholls) and Sam Spinner (Jedd O’Keeffe) – who chased home Paisley Park two years ago – also feature.
The latter has not looked at his best in two outings so far this season, but O’Keeffe believes there were valid excuses.
He said: “Sam Spinner is fine at home and the Stayers’ Hurdle is a definite target for him.
“He has had a little bit of time off after his run at Newbury as an old foot injury has flared up again. Due to that injury, the plan is to stay over hurdles this season and so the Stayers’ Hurdle will be his main spring target.
“I think we are going to struggle to get a run into him before the race, so he will be going to Cheltenham fresh.
“He has solid form at Cheltenham, so hopefully he can get there in one piece.”
There is one entry from France in Paul’s Saga (David Cottin). The seven-year-old mare landed the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil (French Champion Hurdle) in October.
PADDY POWER STAYERS' HURDLE (Grade 1)
Ask Dillon (IRE) 8 11 10 4 The Fun Partnership Fergal O'Brien
Bacardys (FR) 10 11 10 Shanakiel Racing Syndicate W. P. Mullins IRE
Bachasson (FR) 10 11 10 E. O'Connell W. P. Mullins IRE
Bapaume (FR) 8 11 10 Mrs S. Ricci W. P. Mullins IRE
Beacon Edge (IRE) 7 11 10 Gigginstown House Stud Noel Meade IRE
Call Me Lord (FR) 8 11 10 Mr Simon Munir & Mr Isaac Souede Nicky Henderson
Captain Zebo (IRE) 9 11 10 Mrs S. F. Dixon John Dixon
Champ (IRE) 9 11 10 Mr John P. McManus Nicky Henderson
City Island (IRE) 8 11 10 Sean & Bernardine Mulryan Martin Brassil IRE
Commander of Fleet (IRE) 7 11 10 Gigginstown House Stud Gordon Elliott IRE
Decor Irlandais (FR) 8 11 10 Mr John Devine Noel C. Kelly IRE
Diol Ker (FR) 7 11 10 Gigginstown House Stud Noel Meade IRE
Donna's Diamond (IRE) 12 11 10 D&D Armstrong Ltd Chris Grant
Emitom (IRE) 7 11 10 The Spero Partnership Ltd Warren Greatrex
Flooring Porter (IRE) 6 11 10 Flooring Porter Syndicate Gavin Cromwell IRE
French Dynamite (FR) 6 11 10 Robcour M. F. Morris IRE
Fury Road (IRE) 7 11 10 Gigginstown House Stud Gordon Elliott IRE
Honest Vic (IRE) 8 11 10 Carole Daly & Partners Henry Daly
If The Cap Fits (IRE) 9 11 10 Mr Simon Munir & Mr Isaac Souede Harry Fry
Imperial Alcazar (IRE) 7 11 10 Imperial Racing Partnership 2016 Fergal O'Brien
Itchy Feet (FR) 7 11 10 Kate & Andrew Brooks Olly Murphy
Jacamar (GER) 6 11 10 Pegasus Bloodstock Limited Milton Harris
Kalashnikov (IRE) 8 11 10 Mr Paul Murphy Amy Murphy
Kemboy (FR) 9 11 10 Kemboy/Brett Graham/Ken Sharp Syndicate W. P. Mullins IRE
Lil Rockerfeller (USA) 10 11 10 Davies Smith Govier & Brown Neil King
Lisnagar Oscar (IRE) 8 11 10 Racing for Fun Rebecca Curtis
Main Fact (USA) 8 11 10 Munrowd's Partnership David Pipe
McFabulous (IRE) 7 11 10 Giraffa Racing Paul Nicholls
Next Destination (IRE) 9 11 10 Mr Malcolm C. Denmark Paul Nicholls
Paisley Park (IRE) 9 11 10 Mr Andrew Gemmell Emma Lavelle
Reserve Tank (IRE) 7 11 10 The Reserve Tankers Colin Tizzard
Ronald Pump (GB) 8 11 10 Laois Limerick Syndicate Matthew J. Smith IRE
Sam Spinner (GB) 9 11 10 Caron & Paul Chapman Jedd O'Keeffe
Sams Profile (GB) 7 11 10 Michael O'Flynn/John F O'Flynn M. F. Morris IRE
Sire du Berlais (FR) 9 11 10 Mr John P. McManus Gordon Elliott IRE
Sixshooter (IRE) 6 11 10 Gigginstown House Stud Noel Meade IRE
Summerville Boy (IRE) 9 11 10 Mr R. S. Brookhouse Tom George
The Mighty Don (IRE) 9 11 10 Golden Rose Partnership Nick Gifford
The Storyteller (IRE) 10 11 10 Mrs Pat Sloan Gordon Elliott IRE
Thomas Darby (IRE) 8 11 10 Mrs Diana L. Whateley Olly Murphy
Thyme Hill (GB) 7 11 10 The Englands and Heywoods Philip Hobbs
Tobefair (GB) 11 11 10 Down The Quay Club Debra Hamer
Vinndication (IRE) 8 11 10 Moremoneythan Kim Bailey
Vision des Flos (FR) 8 11 10 Ann & Alan Potts Limited Colin Tizzard
Younevercall (IRE) 10 11 10 Youneverknow Partnership Kim Bailey
Benie des Dieux (FR) 10 11 3 Mrs S. Ricci W. P. Mullins IRE
Dame de Compagnie (FR) 8 11 3 Mr John P. McManus Nicky Henderson
Great White Shark (FR) 7 11 3 Mr Malcolm C. Denmark W. P. Mullins IRE
Heaven Help Us (IRE) 7 11 3 Mr J. Turner P. Hennessy IRE
Paul's Saga (FR) 7 11 3 Gerald Laroche D. Cottin FR
Roksana (IRE) 9 11 3 Mrs Sarah Faulks Dan Skelton