Thyme and Paisley set for Long Walk duel as Cheltenham clues emerge from Ascot

Cheltenham Festival clues at Ascot: Thyme Hill will take on Paisley Park in an epic Long Walk Hurdle on Saturday.
Cheltenham Festival clues at Ascot: Thyme Hill will take on Paisley Park in an epic Long Walk Hurdle on Saturday.

Steve Chambers previews a fine two-day meeting at Ascot on Friday and Saturday, where the Long Walk Hurdle takes centre stage, and he picks out a few horses that could well shine in March at the Cheltenham Festival...

Ascot 14:30, Friday (Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle)

In the last decade Nicky Henderson has saddled four winners of the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle (registered as Kennel Gate Novices' Hurdle), and the Seven Barrows handler will look to enhance his fine record on Friday by saddling No Ordinary Joe to victory in the 14:30 Grade 2. Making his hurdling debut, the once-raced bumper winner will be looking to throw his name into the Supreme Novices' Hurdle picture - a race he is currently 33/1 for - but he will face some smart hurdling prospects on Friday, who will all hold aspirations of winning the opening race at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.

Dan Skelton's My Drogo won on his hurdling debut and is around a 25/1 chance for the Supreme, while the Tom Symonds-trained Llandinabo Lad (33/1 for Supreme) and Kim Bailey's Shantou Express add more depth to a fascinating race full of potential improvers. While it's regarded as a notable Supreme trial, no horse in recent times has managed to be victorious here and go on to win the Supreme, but one standout winner of yesteryear is the Martin Pipe-trained Make A Stand who won the 1996 Kennel Gate before going on to win the 1997 Champion Hurdle.

Ascot 15:05, Friday (Noel Novices' Chase)

There's more Graded action later in the afternoon at Ascot, as the Grade 2 Noel Novices' Chase has attracted a field of six for the 2m 2f 175y contest, which is a notable trial for both the Arkle Challenge Trophy and Marsh Novices' Chase. The last horse to win this event and go on to win one of the premier novice chases at Cheltenham was Nicky Henderson's Simonsig, who was a facile 49-length winner of the 2012 Noel and the classy grey then went on to outclass his rivals in the Arkle a few months later. Simonsig was emulating the mighty Remittance Man, who achieved the Noel/Arkle double back in 1990, so the class of 2020 will have some big names to try and emulate on Friday.

Henderson will bid for more success in the race after he saddled Angels Breath to victory 12 months ago, and he will saddle Allart, who will be making his chasing debut in the contest. Fifth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in March, Allart (50/1 for Arkle) will have to take on some more experienced contenders with Colin Tizzard's Fiddlerontheroof (33/1 for Marsh) aiming to bounce back to winning ways after he was beaten at Newbury when sent off an odds-on favourite last time out. Paul Nicholls will hand former Betfair Hurdle winner Pic D'Orhy (33/1 for Arkle) a chance in this event, and he was a faller on his last visit to Ascot, while Bold Plan (40/1 fo Marsh) notched up the notable scalp of The Big Breakaway at Exeter last time out, and adds more depth to the race.

Ascot 13:15, Saturday (Injured Jockeys Fund Graduation Chase)

A six-race card will take place at Ascot on Saturday afternoon and the second race on the card is a fascinating renewal of the Injured Jockeys Fund Graduation Chase, which could unearth a potential Ryanair Chase contender. Last season the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Riders onthe Storm was victorious and then headed into the Ryanair as a leading fancy. However, the Naunton raider fell in the 2m 5f Grade 1 contest at the Cheltenham Festival, so was unable to land any significant blow. Now, a new flock of emerging chasers will line up on Saturday aiming to emulate the Twiston-Davies class act and Nicky Henderson's Caribean Boy could be one of those that emerges as a lively Ryanair threat.

As short as 16/1 with some firms for the Ryanair, Caribean Boy was last seen easing to a four-length victory over Fiddlerontheroof at Newbury, and having won his last two chase outings, the Seven Barrows inmate will be aiming to make it a hat-trick of wins. With the Ryanair Chase betting so open with recent John Durkan winner Min the current ante-post favourite at 7/1` then a smart chaser could push his way into contention, and Caribean Boy looks just that.

Olly Murphy's Itchy Feet has failed to get his head in front this season, but wasn't disgraced when third in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree and second in the 1965 Chase at Ascot, and at 33/1 for the Ryanair could be a springer, while Grand Sancy adds more depth to the race, as he looks to bounce back from a disappointing display in the Rising Stars Novices' Chase at Wincanton.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Ascot 14:25, Saturday (Long Walk Hurdle)

Six winners of the Long Walk Hurdle have gone on to claim victory in the Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in the same season, and the next batch of smart staying hurdlers will attempt to land the Grade 1 double. Taking centre stage at 14:25 on Saturday, this year's Long Walk Hurdle is set to see current Stayers' Hurdle ante-post favourite Thyme Hill clash with former Long Walk hero Paisley Park, who achieved the aforementioned double back in the 2018-19 season. A current 9/2 favourite for the Stayers' Hurdle, Thyme Hill got the better of Paisley Park when they met in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last month. Winning by one and a half lengths, the Philip Hobbs-trained star showed terrific grit to get the better of the proven top class stayer in Paisley Park, and that pair sit prominently in the Long Walk betting, at the time of writing.

In recent times the likes of Baracouda, My Way De Solzen and Big Buck's have won the Long Walk Hurdle in the same season as the Stayers' Hurdle, and it will not only be Thyme Hill and Paisley Park looking to land the prestigious double this season. The hugely progressive winning machine Main Fact will line up on Saturday, and victory would see his 25/1 price for the Stayers plummet, while Dan Skelton's classy mare Roksana adds more depth to the race, and she is 20/1 for the Stayers, but could alternatively line up in the Mares' Hurdle at the festival in March, where she is currently trading as a 16/1 chance.

A huge race in its own right, the Long Walk has a glittering roll of honour, and Saturday's contest should throw up another exciting winner, who will look to reign supreme in the three mile staying hurdle division on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Cheltenham Festival Races
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