Emma Lavelle’s pride and joy carried all before him last season, winning each of his five starts including this Grade One event – historically known as the Long Walk Hurdle – and the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March where he beat Jedd O’Keeffe’s Sam Spinner in a thrilling tussle.
The seven-year-old picked up where he left off when giving weight and a beating to Thistlecrack in last month’s Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury – and he will be prohibitive odds to continue his winning streak.
And the horse can be assured of the goodwill of the racing public because of their respect, and affection, for ever enthusiastic owner Andrew Gemmell who is blind.
His enthusiasm, and enjoyment listening to commentaries of his horse’s wins, has been one of racing’s highlights of 2019.
Lavelle said: “All has gone really well since Newbury. He seems in really good form, touch wood, and he’s fresh and well.
“We’re very happy with him going into the race. The ground is obviously going to be hard work, but it will be hard work for them all.
“As I was saying to someone earlier in the week, I’d much rather run him in this sort of ground in December than in late January, when you’re getting closer to Cheltenham in March.”
The Tom George-trained The Worlds End, winner of Wetherby’s West Yorkshire Hurdle on Charlie Hall Chase day, renews rivalry with Paisley Park, having finished seven lengths behind in third at Newbury three weeks ago.
George said: “It’s a stiff task, but there aren’t many options – it was either run here or take him to Ireland next week.
“We always thought he preferred better ground as a younger horse, but Adrian (Heskin) said he actually preferred the softer ground at Wetherby to the better ground at Newbury, so conditions might suit him. He’s in good form, and we’ll see how we go.
Nicky Henderson’s three-time Grade One winner L’Ami Serge filled the runner-up spot behind Sam Spinner in the 2017 renewal and he returns for another tilt off the back of a 580-day absence.
“He is back on Saturday and is in really good form. We missed a whole year, but he is in good form now,” said Henderson. “He is taking on Paisley Park first time out, when he has a run under his belt. We haven’t run since the 2018 French Champion Hurdle, so you can expect improvement.
“He has been working very well – he worked with Altior last Saturday. He had to miss that year, because he had a touch of a leg after France and it was just a case of having a year off. He has done lots of work.”
Debra Hamer saddles her stable star Tobefair, while Oliver Sherwood’s mare Papagana steps up in class after a facile success in Listed company against her own sex at Kempton on her seasonal debut. The sextet is completed by the Nick Williams-trained outsider Agrapart.
However the meeting must pass an early morning inspection following heavy rain. And, if the meeting is on, Evan Williams is hoping Quoi De Neuf will come of age in the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle.
The five-year-old caught many punters’ eyes when going close in last month’s Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham with limited experience over jumps.