Paisley Park and Thyme Hill have been declared among a field of 10 in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot – for round two of what could become a compelling rivalry.
Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park was the pre-eminent force in the staying hurdle division for two seasons until the Cheltenham Festival in March when he could finish only seventh and was subsequently found to have a fibrillating heart.
With that problem solved, he made his reappearance at Newbury where he looked back to his normal self but could not quite reel in Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill, who was having his first run out of novice company.
The younger Thyme Hill was in receipt of 3lb at Newbury, and won by a length and a half, so their second clash on Saturday is eagerly anticipated.
Lavelle told Sky Sports Racing: “I was thrilled to bits with him at Newbury – it was great to get him back and see him finish with his usual tenacity.
“Although the race was funnily run, it was probably ideal because it meant he didn’t have a hard race at that stage of the season – and it gave us our confidence back.
“At Cheltenham, at the point you expected him to do his thing, he wasn’t able – (so) it was to his credit he wasn’t beaten that far.
“You could see when he got back to the stable his heart wasn’t beating in rhythm. It’s not uncommon, and they reckon good horses do it more than others because they tend to have bigger hearts.”
Paisley Park soon began to demonstrate he was back in full health, and trainer Lavelle added: “The situation rectified itself – which was good. If you have to intervene, it is more concerning.
“There clearly is a chance it can happen again, but I think it is less likely to happen again than likely – it didn’t happen again to Denman or Sprinter Sacre, so hopefully he can follow in their footsteps.
“If the Long Walk was last Saturday he’d have been ready to go. He’s definitely come forward from Newbury, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Paisley Park won the Long Walk in 2018 but was an 11th-hour withdrawal last year on the morning of the race because of very testing ground. In his absence, The Worlds End took full advantage – and he is back to defend his crown, having left Tom George and now with Olly Murphy.
There is another previous winner of the race returning too, in Colin Tizzard’s veteran Thistlecrack – who was at his imperious best when cruising through the 2015 renewal on the bridle.
David Pipe’s incredible Main Fact is bidding for a 10th successive win, with three having come on the Flat. He arrives after extending his sequence in a Haydock handicap which both Sam Spinner and Paisley Park also won before taking this in previous years.
Dan Skelton’s mare Roksana will have her supporters following an impressive win at Wetherby, while Ronan McNally sends over The Jam Man from Northern Ireland.
However, Gordon Elliott has decided against sending dual Pertemps Final winner Sire Du Berlais.
Portrush Ted, Third Wind and Younevercall complete the field.