He’s long in the tooth but this legendary stayer can win the Long Walk one more time on a huge day at Ascot
IT’s the time of year for the bells to jingle and I’m hoping Tom Bells realises that and goes ding-dong merrily on high on PAISLEY PARK (2.25) at Ascot on Saturday.
Oh yes, Merry Christmas everyone, and for racing fans it’s hard to think of a better Yuletide present than the old boy Paisley Park banging in another Grade 1 in the feature Long Walk Hurdle — named after an avenue of trees in Windsor Great Park — live on ITV.
Paisley Park is bidding for an incredible fourth win in the three-mile bash, having won it for trainer Emma Lavelle in 2018, 2020 and 2022.
Back then Aidan Coleman was on top. But sadly Coleman remains on the sidelines after a horrible injury, so Tom Bellamy is in the hot seat.
Bellamy, who confesses to being a Christmas-loving fanatic, is right up for the task.
He told me: “I’m looking forward to riding Paisley Park.
“His first run of the season was massive against Dashel Drasher and he had to give him 6lb and Dashel was race-fit as well.
“I think he will have built on it for his fitness. The Long Walk is a stronger race but it’s an absolute pleasure to get on a horse like him and if I can repay everyone by getting the job done that would be fantastic.”
Paisley Park meets some old friends in the Long Walk — Champ, the 2021 winner and, of course, Dashel Drasher, second behind Sire du Berlais in this year’s Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Between the three of them they have been around for 32 years and Paisley Park and Champ have met on five occasions with the score 3-2 to Paisley.
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And in a decent-sized field for an event like this, there are some young pretenders in the line up, namely West Balboa and Crambo.
Seven-year-old West Balboa, who goes for Dan and Harry Skelton, is a mare I love — but you have to go back to 1982 to find the last female beast to land this in Mayotte.
West Balboa looked really good at Aintree last season in a handicap hurdle and was an easy winner on her return. She’s useful.
Crambo was beaten in a handicap at Haydock last time, but the Fergal O’Brien-handled six-year-old should have won that day and Jonathan Burke gets his chance today.
He’s been nibbled in the market for the Stayers’ Hurdle and is getting better and better.
It’s a cracker of a Long Walk. I’ll have a few quid each-way on Paisley Park and hope the roof is raised at Ascot should he score — let’s all pray ‘Bells’ is jingling like he has never jingled before.
Ascot also has a belter of a race for the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle.
It’s in this race I turn for my nap of the day, and this column has been in great form the last two weeks with Truckers Lodge and Fugitif both banging in at decent odds.
I’m relying on IBERICO LORD (3.35) at shorter digits, and suspect he could be smashed in the market for Nicky Henderson and the super talented Nico De Boinville.
Iberico Lord returned this season with a classy victory at Cheltenham, showing his second to Under Control at Sandown last term was no flash in the pan.
The handicapper has taken no chances thumping him up 8lb, but there’s even a chance Iberico Lord could make up into a champion hurdle contender the way he is going.
Whatever the case he’ll make a lovely chaser one day. The five-year-old has much more to come.
This race is no gimme, and Henderson wants the prize saddling two big rivals in Impose Toi and Luccia, who both have plenty of decent form.
Throw in Hansard, who looked good at Newbury and Ascot runner-up Altobelli and we have strong a line-up.
It’s probably not the weather for much flashing to be honest, but the other horse that interests me at Ascot is FLASH COLLONGES (3.00) in the three-mile handicap chase.
A sound surface seems key to the Nicholls raider. He stays well and is only 1lb higher than when winning a handicap hurdle at Kelso in 2021.
Whatever happens today have a great Christmas. Come on Paisley!
Yeeehaaa! Ho, Ho, Ho!
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