Thomas Darby returned to his best to run out a ready winner of the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
Always highly regarded by Olly Murphy, Thomas Darby was on the verge of becoming a little disappointing but fitted with a tongue tie for the first time, travelled sweetly in the hands of Sean Bowen.
For Paisley Park, the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle winner, a change of tactics were adopted and despite shying away from the starting tape when it was raised, Aidan Coleman soon had him in a share of the lead with On The Blind Side.
Emma Lavelle’s popular hurdler did not seem to hit his usual flat spot at any stage and was still travelling well until landing awkwardly three out, which then put him under pressure.
Thomas Darby loomed up to challenge after the penultimate obstacle and Paisley Park had no answer, dropping back to third.
On The Blind Side, ridden by James Bowen, brother of the winning jockey, kept up his honest gallop to the line, but Thomas Darby had a comfortable two and a quarter lengths in hand.
Mrs Milner was another who briefly threatened but eventually came home fourth, while Indefatigable and Lisnagar Oscar were disappointing.
Betfair cut the winner to 16-1 from 40s for the Stayers’ Hurdle in March.
Murphy said: “Turning in, I thought ‘he’s lost all my trust’, but then he has come hard back on the bridle. I have always said he is a good horse and while I felt ‘he has always let me down’ is probably too strong, I just thought I would stick a tongue tie on him and he has seen his race out really strong.
“He made a mistake down the back and he is very good horse on his day. He has got there plenty soon enough and hasn’t done a stroke when he hit the front.
“We’ll look at something like Ascot (Long Walk Hurdle) over Christmas. He had a hard race but not a terribly hard one. Sean didn’t pick up his stick on him from the second last to the line.
“I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t be a Stayers’ Hurdle horse – there is not a lot on this side of the water. The Irish have a stronger hand than us, but I just want to see him go and back this up.”
Henderson said of the runner-up: “He is just a star. He tries and tries and tries. And he fought them all off and we were giving the winner weight (4lb).
“He has to go to Ascot but I am going to go there with Buzz. But what else can you do? He will go up for that and he is out of handicaps, so you haven’t got much choice.
“They will probably finish fourth and fifth for all I know, but Buzz is going to the Long Walk and he will have to go there too.”
Ascot could also be on Paisley Park’s agenda.
Lavelle said: “We will go home and see how he is. He ran a solid enough race. He travelled well today and he jumped great, but he just hasn’t quickened and others have.
“It might just be that when the ground is softer that nothing can quicken and he doesn’t get exposed to not having that turn of gear at the end.
“Can we find a four-mile hurdle? He’s run grand without being brilliant and I think ultimately rain is what we need and that will help him.
“What I liked about him today is that he travelled well and the thing about jumping fences is you have to travel to jump, so I would be more interested on the back of that about jumping a fence, but Andrew (Gemmell, part-owner) is keen to go for the Long Walk – he has won it twice – and then decide. Ascot is probably more of a stamina test for him.
“The cheekpieces helped – but I wanna win!”