Santini and Paisley Park pass their Cheltenham trials
On a Saturday of quality racing at Cheltenham, Paisley Park won the Cleeve Hurdle for the second successive season to retain favouritism for the Stayers Hurdle at the March Festival. Just over an hour prior to that contest, Santini proved he will be a contender for the Gold Cup at the same meeting but can both horses win those big prizes in the next few weeks.
For Paisley Park, his victory at the weekend was not as emphatic as twelve months earlier but the manner in which he finished Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle suggests he is approaching peak fitness. The 9-year-old gelding often needs to make ground rapidly from mid-division but he raced closer to the pace on this occasion and seemed to enjoy a comfortable win.
With ears pricked during the closing stages, it appeared that the Emma Lavelle trained horse could have produced more effort if needed and that will not be a good sign for his intended rivals as he seeks to defend his crown in the Stayers Hurdle.
Earlier in the day, Santini faced a test of his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials in the Cotswold Chase. The consistent horse finished second in 2019 RSA Chase and disappointed on his seasonal reappearance at Sandown when narrowly beating Now Mcginty. Wind surgery followed and the 3m1f raced at Cheltenham was his next test.
Towards the closing stages on Saturday, it seemed evident that a duel between Santini and old-stager Bristol De Mai was emerging with the remaining horses struggling to match the two leaders.
A mistake at the third last fence probably cost Bristol De Mai his chances of winning as he surrendered his lead at that stage and was eventually outstayed by Santini up the famous Cheltenham hill.
The winner proved his undoubted stamina and earned his tilt at the Gold Cup but his three lengths victory was earned against a horse which had failed to win at the course in four previous outings. Santini is a worthy contender for the coveted prize at the Festival and acts on the course, but can he upstage a strong likely Irish challenge which is likely to include both Al Boum Photo and Kemboy.