Paisley Park seems set to be a hot favourite for a second consecutive success in the Stayers Hurdle, having kept his unbeaten record since then. So punters must ask themselves, is the eight-year-old as solid as Envoi Allen or fallible like Defi Du Seuil?
He has looked more straightforward this year but this is his toughest test since last year’s Festival and it is disconcerting to see the strike-rate of Emma Lavelle’s yard has been declining since the heady days of November. With a fascinating cast of characters in opposition, it is very tempting to look elsewhere.
City Island (3.30) is the suggestion, as double-figure odds underestimate the horse who beat Champ in last year’s Ballymore. Chasing has not worked out well for him this season but he did enough last time to indicate the ability is still there, now that he switches back to the smaller obstacles after a wind op.
L’Ami Serge easily has the ability to take this if so minded but snatched defeat from the jaws of victory at Ascot in December, which is hard to forgive. Apple’s Jade has tended not to show her best form here and her enthusiasm seems to be ebbing but at her best she would carry these rivals up the hill.
1.30 Marsh Chase Trends followers will balk at the idea of backing a 12-year-old in a novice chase but Faugheen is an exceptional animal who looks well placed to take this. Unbeaten in his first three over fences, he has proved that his engine is still really powerful and he is fancied to outgun the progressive Itchy Feet, half his age.
2.10 Pertemps Final Hurdle Being sent Relegate was a fine reward for Colm Murphy, after he decided to return to training. The mare flew home to win the 2018 Bumper when with Willie Mullins and showed plenty of promise when a staying-on fourth in the Punchestown qualifier last month. She’s nicely treated though dangers abound, notably Third Wind.
2.50 Ryanair Chase Bryony Frost judged the fractions perfectly on Frodon last year and will need to get it bang right again for the horse to have a chance of repeating that success. A more plausible outcome is that A Plus Tard will stay on past him up the hill, an incline which he seemed to relish in landing a handicap here last year.
4.10 Brown Advisory Plate Chase The strongest form belongs to Simply The Betts, a game winner here in January. The runner-up was Imperial Aura, who scored here on Monday, while the third has also won since. Harry Whittington’s star has improved enormously over fences but needs to avoid getting drawn into a strong pace in this big field. If that happened, Oldgrangewood could get into the argument.
4.50 Dawn Run Hurdle Minella Melody is an understandable favourite but horses with a pointing background have not fared well in this. Concertista was making her hurdles debut when beaten a short-head in this last year and may get it right this time.
5.30 Kim Muir Chase “Second time lucky” could be the theme for the end of this card, as Just A Sting came up short in last year’s Kim Muir but looks a stronger stayer this season, judging by his Kempton success over Christmas. He travelled well until falling back there last month.