The Saturday Focus – Porsche Long Walk Hurdle

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

2:25 Ascot – Porsche Long Walk Hurdle (Grade 1) (GBB Race) (Class 1) (4yo+)

This is the first “The Saturday Focus” article where I have focused on a hurdle race as I am, admittedly, slightly biased towards handicap chases. The Long Walk hurdle looks fascinating and I’m so excited to delve into it. This is the second grade one over hurdles so far this season and there is no three mile grade one until the Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Baracouda made this race his own in the early 2000s, winning four times (2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004). His trainer, François Doumen, is the winning-most trainer in the race’s history as he sent this horse out to all four of those victories. Richard Johnson holds the record for the most wins in this with four – Anzum in 1999, Mighty Man in 2006 and Reve De Sivola in 2012 and 2013.

Three previous winners line up in this renewal: Thistlecrack won in 2015; Paisley Park won in 2018, and the Stayers Hurdle in the following March, and, last year, The Worlds End passed the post first. This race has a lot of depth though – young pretender Thyme Hill is looking to back up his win last time; Main Fact is a winning machine; The Jam Man comes over from Ireland; Portrush Ted won impressively last time; Third Wind is only six and Younevercall put in a good run last time to be second off a huge absence.

Paisley Park (JTW Equine Images)

I have to start with Paisley Park. He has lit up the staying division over the past few years. He started his great run of things in October 2018 and, two starts later, he was successful in this race at 8/1. Next, he won the Cleeve Hurdle and then gave connections an amazing day at the Cheltenham Festival in the Stayers’ Hurdle. Last season, he started out at Newbury but was a non-runner in this. He won a second Cleeve Hurdle but disaster struck at the Festival when he only managed seventh. They discovered he had a fibrillating heart. His return to action showed that he wasn’t worse for wear after the scare. Quite rightly, connections were over-the-moon with his return to racing as he finished second. He was giving 3lbs to Thyme Hill, who won the race by one and a half lengths.

It was possibly a career-best that day, I think, for Thyme Hill. He won the Persian War on his first ever start over hurdles and then won a grade two. Over Christmas last year, he won the grade one Challow Novices Hurdle, but it wasn’t a particularly strong grade one. We didn’t see him again until the Albert Bartlett, where he finished best of the English, in behind Monkfish, Latest Exhibition and Fury Road. He raced keenly on his reappearance run, where he finished ahead of Paisley Park. Of the two, I prefer Paisley Park – I think the fact that they are now off equal weights could reverse the form between the two of them.

It is not a two-horse race!

As I mentioned earlier, Main Fact is a “winning machine” and I think that is the phrase that has summed him up in 2020. Connections involved in him have had a lot to smile about in this crazy year – all of the nine wins he has achieved! The first four (22nd January to 2nd March) were over two miles and bottomless ground. He was a very good winner on Midlands National Day in emphatic style (fifteen lengths!) and returned with three wins on the flat between October and November. Last time, at Haydock, he stepped all the way up in trip to three miles and looked beaten before staying on strongly to win by two and three quarter lengths, with Third Wind and The Jam Man in behind. The race at Haydock was won by Paisley Park on his way to victory in this race and the Stayers. Whilst he often looks completely out of contention at some points, you can, seemingly, always guarantee he will run on for you. I think it is a brilliant show of loyalty that connections are keeping faith in Fergus Gillard for this big race. He’s an extremely talented jockey and it would be great to see David Pipe have a big winner.

Tom Scudamore is normally seen riding David Pipe’s horses but he is reunited with his good friend Thistlecrack. Twelve now, Thistlecrack has been an incredible racehorse – grade one winning novice hurdler; winner of this in 2015; Stayers Hurdle winner in 2016; Aintree Liverpool Stayers Hurdle winner; grade two novice chase winner and, in his novice season, he defeated a classy line-up in the King George VI Chase. That was the last time he graced the Winners’ Enclosure. He came second in the Cotswold Chase and returned with a fifth for the 2017/18 season, he showed signs he was coming back to his best when second in the 2018 King George but pulled up in the Gold Cup. Then, he was seen once last season, in behind Paisley Park, but, unfortunately, it is hard to know what to expect from him on his return. The Tizzard yard is having some mixed results lately. I really hope we see some of that old sparkle because what a legend he has been!

The Worlds End (JTW Equine Images)

I think The Worlds End is going to be slightly forgotten about in this race. He won last year on heavy ground, when Paisley Park was pulled out because of it. He had won the West Yorkshire Hurdle before that and he absolutely adores soft ground. The softer the better, really. He pulled up in the Rendlesham and, on his only start this season, pulled up in a grade one at Auteuil. He never seemed comfortable and he has switched yards from Tom George to Olly Murphy. Murphy hasn’t had a winner for over a week but the move to the Warwickshire yard could revitalise him.

The Worlds End is one of the two runners for the McNeill Family. Their other runner is Portrush Ted, wearing the second-string colours. This eight-year-old has had just nine starts as he has had a whole host of issues. The Warren Greatrex yard have done a sensational job with him to prep him to win five outings. The first of those was in the grade two Aintree Grand National Festival bumper. Then, he won his first hurdle race over three miles. 519 days later, he won very well at Ayr before falling at Haydock. Last time out, on heavy ground, he won by half a length in wonderful style. He is an extremely talented individual and jumps, stays and will handle the ground well. I’d love to see him run a good race but, most importantly, come home safe.

Third Wind will absolutely love the ground. He won on Boxing Day at Wincanton and then finished fourth in the Pertemps Final, just less than nine lengths behind the winner. On seasonal reappearance, he was fifth, only beaten four and a half lengths, in a good race at Newbury. Next time, he was in the lead approaching the last but was collared by the fast-finishing Main Fact. Tom O’Brien is riding well but I’m not sure this horse is up to this level. There have been positive movements for him in the market.

There is one Irish runner in the race and that is The Jam Man. This horse comes from a very shrewd operation. He won well at York and then followed that up with a hugely impressive victory in the Troytown Chase, by eighteen lengths. He’s a very versatile horse but was a well-beaten sixth behind Main Fact and Third Wind at Haydock. He was never in contention. I struggle to decipher when this horse is on a going day.

Roksana Making Her Way In After Finishing An Honourable Fourth At The Cheltenham Festival.

Last to mention is the mare in the line-up – Roksana. This mare won the Mares’ Hurdle in 2019 and was beaten a head in the Aintree equivalent of the Stayers Hurdle next time out. She was very consistent without winning last season and got back to winning ways by skipping clear of her rivals in the grade two West Yorkshire Hurdle. The horse who came second that day has subsequently won well. She gets a handy 7lbs allowance from the boys. She shouldn’t mind the ground and Dan Skelton horses can do no wrong at the minute.

My selection for the Long Walk Hurdle is PAISLEY PARK. It was brilliant to see him return to racing with a strong performance. He is the classiest horse in the race and I really hope he can get back on track. I think Thyme Hill may struggle of equal weights with Emma Lavelle’s stable star. I would love to see Main Fact run well for his connections and Portrush Ted looks a huge price.

Portrush Ted (I think) At Home In 2019

Your Thoughts

As always as part of ‘The Saturday Focus’, I encouraged my followers on Twitter to get involved a share with me who they thought will win this race!

Join in the conversation over on my page and enjoy the race!

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