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Long Walk Hurdle – Preview + Verdict For Saturday’s Grade 1 At Ascot

Some experienced campaigners will take on some young, emerging staying hurdlers in Saturday’s hotly-anticipated Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot and it’s set to be an absolutely thrilling renewal.

GG writer Joe Napier previews this year’s race, before giving his verdict on who he expects to come out on top…

The first three-mile Grade 1 over hurdles either side of the Irish Sea, the Long Walk Hurdle provides any Stayers’ Hurdle contenders the chance to lay down an early marker. Brilliant stayers in the past have revelled in Ascot’s conditions, with Baracouda, Big Buck’s and Thistlecrack all putting in dazzling performances here before Cheltenham Festival glory three months later.

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The gallant Paisley Park won the Long Walk for the third time last season when it was run at Kempton, having also won it in alternate years in 2018, 2020 and 2022. He will seek his fourth win in the race among this year’s field.:


  • Age should prove no barrier: every age between 5 and 10 has been victorious in the past decade
  • Though only three favourites have claimed the race in the last ten years, no horse has won at a greater price than 8/1
  • Six of the last ten winners had been beaten on their previous start
  • Seven of the last ten winners had previously won a Grade 1 over hurdles
  • However, a true Grade 1 rating is not a necessity: the average official rating of the last ten winners is 158

Runner-By-Runner Guide

Champ

(N Henderson/J O’Neill)

As a four-time Grade 1 winner, it is tough to say Champ has not lived up to his name. However, perhaps more would have been expected after his exciting novice hurdling and chasing campaigns, culminating in such an exciting victory in the 2020 RSA Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Since his jumping went to pieces in the following year’s Gold Cup, hurdling has been his game, with a win in this race in 2021 his only top-level win in open company. That was also the last time this race was held at Ascot, after a detour to Kempton last term, so the return to the track is likely to suit. He is also capable of his best form when fresh, but whether he is worthy of favouritism at the age of 11 is seriously open to question.


West Balboa

(D Skelton/H Skelton)

With a yawning gap having opened at the top of the British staying hurdle scene, Dan Skelton’s mare has the profile to jump to the top of the pecking order. She has looked seriously progressive on her last two starts, and six hurdles runs have produced four wins and two seconds all told.

She won a Grade 3 handicap at Aintree to end the previous season in fine style before reappearing with a cosy victory at the same track. That came in rain softened conditions with hurdles omitted, so an emphasis on stamina looks to suit, though her superior runs to date have all been achieved going left-handed. As an inexperienced mare, that is worth bearing in mind.


Crambo

(F O’Brien/J Burke)

Fergal O’Brien’s charge has a fine strike rate under rules. Six wins have arrived in nine starts on a variety of surfaces, and his potential has only increased after his two races so far in 2023/24. Those followed three wins in his debut hurdles campaign, with his only two defeats coming in Grade 1s.

He returned with a commanding win off 133 at Aintree, but was far more eye-catching behind two Irish-trained rivals in a Grade 3 handicap at Haydock at the end of November. He finished strongly for third despite being ridden as if a possible non-stayer, but only suggested there is far more to come at three miles. This requires a seismic leap forward, but he could have the capacity to cope with it.


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Paisley Park

(E Lavelle/T Bellamy)

Very little else need be said about Paisley Park at this stage of his career. An extraordinarily tough competitor, his four Grade 1 triumphs do not do justice to his standing in the game over the last five years.

As the seasons have passed, he has become much more of a nearly man than when racking up seven successive wins between October 2018 and January 2020. He has won just two of his last 13 races now, and has become an occasionally recalcitrant ride for Aiden Coleman or Tom Bellamy. Nevertheless, as demonstrated by his gallant runner-up effort to Dashel Drasher on return, the flame still flickers, and is right towards the top of the list on official ratings.


The Rest of the Field

The flies in the ointment may be either of the Nicholls pair of Blueking D’Oroux or Red Risk, both of whom have already demonstrated improved form this year, most notably the latter. Staying looks the former’s forte despite being only four years old, although form questions remain.

Dashel Drasher downed Paisley Park in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, and posted a career best when second in last season’s Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. However, he was in receipt of 6lb from the 11-year-old last time, while Botox Has was able to concede him 4lb on their seasonal reappearances when beating him by 5½ lengths. Gary Moore’s runner was unable to cut it at Graded level last term, but it was a highly likeable run at Wetherby that sees him come into this in form.On the other hand, both Gowel Road and the modern day version of Goshen look set to struggle.


Big-Race Verdict

The 11-year-olds Champ and Paisley Park retain a fair chance of upsetting their younger rivals, but neither is at the peak of their powers anymore. If there is to emerge a possible staying star, both Crambo and West Balboa look very interesting upped to this company at this trip, but each still have a substantial amount to find on ratings. Narrow preference is for BOTOX HAS, who is of the same generation as the previous pair despite being vastly more experienced. Two runs at Ascot as a four and five-year-old yielded only disappointments, but both were over shorter, and he looks a thorough and talented stayer nowadays. The four-year-old Blueking D’Oroux is not passed over lightly.

  1. Botox Has
  2. West Balboa
  3. Blueking D’Oroux

SELECTION: Botox Has 11/1

*Odds Correct At Time Of Writing – 1:40pm Thursday 21st December*

Howden Long Walk Hurdle (Grade 1) (GBB Race)

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