The defending champion Paisley Park headlines 40 entries for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on day three of the Cheltenham Festival on Thursday, 12th March.
Paisley Park (Emma Lavelle) was unbeaten in five starts during the 2018/19 campaign and started this season in the same vein with a comfortable success in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on 29th November.
The eight-year-old has the chance to become the fourth multiple winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle this century, following Big Buck’s (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), Inglis Drever (2005, 2007, 2008) and Baracouda (2002, 2003).
Paisley Park is set to run next in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, 25th January, a race he won impressively in 2019.
Ireland’s 19 entries for the Stayers’ Hurdle include the 2018 winner Penhill, who is one of seven contenders for Willie Mullins. Other names to note for the Closutton handler are top class mares Benie des Dieux and Laurina, as well as the 2019 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle victor Klassical Dream.
Compatriots City Island (Martin Brassil) and Minella Indo (Henry de Bromhead) both won at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019, plundering the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle respectively.
Mouse Morris is a man to keep onside at The Festival and the Co Tipperary trainer is hoping stable star Sams Profile can stake his claim for Stayers’ Hurdle honours later this month.
Sams Profile mixed it with the best novices last season. He finished fifth behind City Island at The Festival before narrowly failing to reel in Reserve Tank in the Champion Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles at Punchestown in May.
Morris, who landed the Stayers’ Hurdle 30 years ago with Trapper John, reported: “The Stayers’ Hurdle is the aim with Sams Profile and his first run back will be in the Galmoy Hurdle.
“We were thinking about going chasing with him, but he had a slight setback so we decided to stay over hurdles for this season.
“I would hope he could have a lively chance in the Stayers’ Hurdle if he went there, but we will see how he goes in the Galmoy first.”
Tom George has two in-form contenders in The Worlds End and Summerville Boy. The Worlds End enjoyed success in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas, while Summerville Boy, winner of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2018, returned to hurdling with a battling victory in the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Other high-profile entries include If The Cap Fits (Harry Fry), who relished the step up to three miles when landing the Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree last season, and Champ (Nicky Henderson).
The 2019 heroine Roksana (Dan Skelton)features among 36 entries for the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle.
A formidable Irish challenge includes arguably the three most talented Jump mares in training – Apple’s Jade (Gordon Elliott), the 2018 winner Benie des Dieux (Willie Mullins) and the unbeaten Honeysuckle (Henry de Bromhead). All three enjoyed G1 glory against the geldings in 2019.
A dark horse among the entries could be Relegate, who is now with Colm Murphy, best known as the trainer of 2006 Champion Hurdle hero Brave Inca and 2010 Queen Mother Champion Chase victor Big Zeb.
Previously trained by Willie Mullins, Relegate captured the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at The Festival in 2018 but failed to scale those heights during a light novice hurdle campaign last season, winning one of her three starts.
The seven year-old’s latest appearance came in a novice hurdle at Leopardstown in February, when she was a fast-finishing fifth behind Commander Of Fleet.
Murphy, who returned to the training ranks in May last year, said: “Relegate is coming along nicely now. We have had a few stops and starts, which meant she wasn’t out over Christmas, but we have had a clear run for the last month or so.
“All being well, she will start off at the Dublin Racing Festival in a handicap hurdle. She is rated 130 and that looks quite an attractive mark given what she was up to in bumpers.
“We have put a lot of work into her jumping, as it was letting her down during her novice season. It will have to improve, but we hope that it will.
“She will have plenty of options at Cheltenham and I suppose we will be guided by how she gets on at the Dublin Racing Festival.”
Nicky Henderson relies on Verdana Blue, the winner of last season’s Christmas Hurdle and Scottish Champion Hurdle, as he chases a first win in the race.
Prolific mare Lady Buttons (Phil Kirby), fourth behind Roksana in 2019, and highly regarded novices Silver Forever (Paul Nicholls) and The Glancing Queen (Alan King) are also engaged.