2019 Long Walk Hurdle preview – Runner-by-runner guide to Saturday’s Grade One at Ascot
Brian Healy takes a runner-by-runner look at Saturday's feature Grade One contest at Ascot,the Long Walk Hurdle, which features Paisley Park and L'ami Serge.
The feature race of Saturday’s racecard at Ascot is the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle, otherwise known this year as the Marsh Hurdle, and the extended three-mile contest will give a huge pointer towards the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival next March.
The top-tier contest boasts a first prize of almost £57,000 to the winning connections, and the race has been won by some top-class names in recent years including Unowhatimeanharry, Thistlecrack and triple-champions in Big Buck’s and Reve De Sivola.
Sam Spinner meanwhile took this prize two seasons ago, while current Stayers’ Hurdle champion Paisley Park took top honours in the race twelve months ago, and Emma Lavelle’s charge is likely to face five rivals as he bids to defend his crown.
The racecard order sees Agrapart (25/1, Bet365) head the list of possible runners, but while Nick Williams’ Martaline gelding is a classy performer at his best, he has largely struggled at the top table since posting his last urdles success at Cheltenham in January 2018 when beating course specialist Wholestone in that season’s Cleeve Hurdle.
The eight-year old is well-suited by a soft surface, and he contested this race twelve months ago where he finished ninth of the eleven runners who went to post, crossing the line more than forty lengths adrift of Paisley Park who reopposes here; and he failed to complete the course behind the same rival when pulled up in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Also denied last term behind If The Cap Fits, he did get back to winning ways on the flat at Ascot in May; but he’s struggled since back over hurdles this term in two runs in France, latterly beaten into fourth behind Paul’s Saga in the Prix Leon-Olry-Roederer.
He is likely to struggle again here despite this looking a weak renewal, and he is hard to make a serious case for against the defending champion PAISLEY PARK (1/4, Coral) who should take all the beating.
Emma Lavelle’s star progressed hand-over-fist last term, reeling off an unbeaten five-win season culminating in the Cheltenham Festival showpiece where he flew up the hill to deny Sam Spinner by three lengths despite making a mistake at the final obstacle.
The Oscar gelding had beaten West Approach to land this prize twelve months ago, and he subsequently beat the same rival at Cheltenham in the Cleeve Hurdle enroute to his Festival win.
He has had a comeback outing at Newbury when grinding out a one length success over former champion Thistlecrack in the Grade Two Long Distance Hurdle, with the reopposing The Worlds End back in third, and likely to have needed that reappearance he should come on markedly for the outing where he should have little trouble in confirming that form with Tom George’s charge.
The current big cheese in the stayers’ hurdling division, he is the one they all have to beat and Emma Lavelle’s charge is very hard to oppose.
The Worlds End (11/1, Ladbrokes) is a very capable performer as he showed when beating Unowhatimeanharry on his reappearance in the West Yorkshire Hurdle back in November; but he was readily brushed aside when taking on the defending champion at Newbury, beaten around seven lengths.
The Stowaway gelding had looked a progressive chaser last term, winning two of his first three starts over the larger obstacles; but he went off the boil in the second half of the campaign, and a return to hurdling at Aintree in April didn’t rekindle the fire as he trailed home a well-beaten ninth behind If The Cap Fits in the Grade One Liverpool Hurdle.
This represents a very tough assignment trying to reverse form with Paisley Park who was too good for him last time, so the returning L’Ami Serge (14/1, Coral) could prove the one to chase home Emma Lavelle’s charge for the silver medal.
Nicky Henderson’s King’s Theatre gelding hasn’t been seen since finishing seventh in the 2018 Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil almost 600 days ago and it remains to be seen if the nine-year old retailns all his old ability.
He has proven himself to be a very classy and consistent performer throughout his career, although he hasn’t been without quirks and the strong-travelling sort often needs delivered late as he has appeared on more than one occasion not to relish a battle.
Runner-up to Sam Spinner in this contest two seasons ago, he was sent back chasing for a tilt at the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster where he finished third despite looking handicapped to win, and his reluctance to battle was again in evidence on that occasion.
Eighth to Penhill in the 2018 Stayers’ Hurdle, he got back to winning ways for the first time in almost a year when beating Supasundae in the Aintree Hurdle prior to his French exertions although that was his last outing and he returns here from 580 days off the track.
He has gone well fresh in the past, and he has no issue with soft ground; but whether he truly wants three miles remains is less certain, although if he arrives here fit to go after a lengthy absence and retaining all his old ability then he could well be the one to give Paisley Park most to think about.
Tobefair (14/1, William Hill) has plenty of useful form in the book, but Debra Hamer’s charge looks up against it stepping into Grade One company – albeit a relatively weak one – and so the Central Park gelding needs to find plenty of improvement if he’s to lower the colours of some classy rivals.
A winner at Cheltenham in April when beating Broughtons Admiral, he was going one place better than when narrowly denied behind Sire Du Berlais in the Pertemps Final.
That April success was followed up by another win at Cheltenham in October where he ran out a narrow half-length winner over Sunset Showdown, and he acquitted himself well in defeat when crossing the line in third behind Golan Fortune latest back at Prestbury Park in the Listed Big Buck’s Handicap Hurdle although he was beaten four lengths.
That was a good performance under his big weight where he was arguably given too much to do; this is a tougher test however taking on the likes of Paisley Park at level weights where he would otherwise get more than a stone in weight from the Stayers’ Hurdle champion in a handicap.
Papagana (20/1, Paddy Power) arrives here in search of a hat-trick of wins, and Oliver Sherwood’s Martaline mare can give a good account although she also faces an uphill battle taking on the reigning Stayers’ Hurdle champion.
She is relatively lightly raced, having had just nine career starts and the six-year old finished a very good third behind Queenohearts in the Grade Two Jane Seymour Novices’ Hurdle last term before stepping up to three miles to win a Listed event at Doncaster where she beat Danse Idol.
There was a lot to like about her recent reappearance at Kempton where she won again in a Listed race at Kempton, beating Culture De Sivola by nine lengths, and she can continue to improve although this will demand considerably more from her stepping into Graded company for the first time.
The sole mare in the race, she is rated some 23lbs below Emma Lavelle’s star and while she could give a good account, this is likely to prove altogether too tough for her.
Defending champion PAISLEY PARK (1/4, Coral) faces a possible five rivals as he bids for back-to-back wins in the race, and Emma Lavelle’s charge ought to prove a very tough nut to crack where it would be a surprise if he failed to deliver successive titles in this contest for connections.
He had The Words End behind when winning the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury recently, and he should confirm that form with Tom George’s charge who looks set to battle out the runner-up spot with the returning L’Ami Serge who has well-being to prove after a lengthy layoff.
With Agrapart out of sorts, and both Papagana and Tobefair taking big hikes in grade, this looks a relatively poor renewal of this Grade One prize and it would be disappointing – and something of a shock – if Emma Lavelle’s Stayers’ Hurdle champion doesn’t mount a successful defence here.
2019 LONG WALK HURDLE SELECTION – PAISLEY PARK (1/4, Coral)