THE Long Walk Hurdle is noted for its multiple winners, with Paisley Park’s connections looking to add his name to the list of those horses boasting three successes in the race.
The three-mile-and-one-furlong test is run at Ascot, the race name coming from the famous tree-lined avenue at Great Windsor Park, just a few miles from the Berkshire course. The event is one the highlights of the pre-Christmas British schedule, attracting some of the best staying hurdlers from across Europe, many going on to the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival next March.
Paisley Park certainly falls into that category, despite not troubling the winners’ enclosure for 12 months, the last time ironically in the Long Walk. On that occasion he beat the Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill by a neck in a pulsating finish, with the bookies believing the second-placed runner can go one better this time around.
Thyme Hill has been installed with bet365 current deals as the 5/2 (+250) joint-favorite, despite a disappointing return to action at Auteuil in November where the seven-year-old finished down the field on ground that was far from ideal. But he has shown his class on several occasions, and after missing the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last March, he was back firing in Aintree’s Grade One three-miler, holding off Dan Skelton’s Roksana by a neck – a repeat of that performance would test all his Ascot rivals.
He is joined at the top of the betting by Buzz, the recent winner of the Grade Two Coral Hurdle at the same course. It will be the Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old’s first race at three miles, and the way he finished the two-and-a-half-mile test in November indicated it shouldn’t be a problem.
But Paisley Park has the course and distance form, and the 8/1 (+800) price for the Emma Lavelle-trained nine-year-old is attractive. And despite a low-key return to action in his recent run at Newbury, when he finished more than ten lengths behind Thomas Darby, owner Andrew Gemmell is clear about his ambitions.
“Ascot is definitely in my thoughts, as he has won two of the last three Long Walk Hurdles and the only one he didn’t win was the one in 2019, where we pulled him out on the day because the ground was unsuitable,” said Gemmell, whose horse would join Reve De Sivola and Big Buck’s as a three-time winner of the race.
“I think we have to go to Ascot and, in retrospect, we are not too disappointed with the run at Newbury. I know we made the pace, but the race didn’t fall the way we wanted it to. The ground was definitely quicker than we thought and I think he definitely needs softer ground than he got. The Long Walk may have a bigger field, there will be a truer pace, and we have nothing to lose by going to Ascot now.
“We feel that he has run there twice, won there twice, and so I think we have to go.”
A win on December 18 and he would only have the great Baracouda to chase, the French ace winning the Long Walk Hurdle four times between 2000 and 2004. Francois Doumen’s machine was also a two-time winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and put together a ten-race unbeaten streak between November 2000 and November 2002.
But Paisley Park has a long way to go to match those exploits, and he will have stiff competition with connections of Thomas Darby, 8/1 (+800), eager to see their charge do the double over Paisley Park after the success at Newbury.
Never an easy horse to get right, trainer Olly Murphy admitted Thomas Darby has been a real test over the years, and the eight-year-old has struggled for any consistency throughout his career. The installation of a tongue-tie a few days before the Newbury run appears to have had the desired effect, and Murphy will hope he can take that form to Ascot for the Long Walk.