Paisley Park survived a last-flight blunder to justify favouritism and record a fairytale success for his connections in the Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Emma Lavelle’s seven-year-old – whose owner Andrew Gemmell has been blind from birth – had enjoyed a perfect season to date with four impressive victories which saw punters send him off at 11-8.
With confidence building behind former champion hurdler Faugheen in recent days, however, and Ruby Walsh having him in the perfect position throughout, Paisley Park faced his toughest test to date.
As he has in the past, Paisley Park had got a little outpaced with a mile to run, but just like in the Cleeve Hurdle, he came charging around the outside to take over from Sam Spinner, a 33-1 chance this year having been sent off favourite 12 months ago.
With Faugheen now running on empty in third it looked a foregone conclusion, but with a length lead approaching the last, Paisley Park launched himself at it, managing to stay on his feet before winning by two and three-quarter lengths.
The story of his owner has been well told in the build up to the meeting and hot on the heels of Bryony Frost bringing the house down aboard Frodon in the Ryanair Chase, the Cheltenham crowd welcomed home another popular winner.
Gemmell said: “It’s wonderful – fantastic. I can’t believe it’s happening.
“He isn’t big, but he’s in the Baracouda mould. He hits that flat spot and then comes again.”
Lavelle said of her winner, whose life had been threatened by an attack of colic two years ago: “He’s delivered for us the whole season and he’s done it again. I’m thrilled.
“He was a bit further back than I expected, but the man in charge (Coleman) knew what he was doing. There are so many people behind this horse and I think they just blew him up the hill.
“I think it’s probably unlikely he’ll go chasing (next season). He’s good, so let’s enjoy him over hurdles and he’s only seven. I’m just delighted he’s done it and he’s a young horse going forward.”
She went on: “I have no idea if he’ll run again this season – I’m not even going to think about that.
“He’s banged his knee a little at the last, so we’ll get him home and see how he is and decide.”
“We’re going to enjoy the moment. I can’t say quite how bad our hangover is going to be in the morning!”
Jedd O’Keeffe, trainer of Sam Spinner, said: “Things have not gone right for one reason or another and it was great to see him back to his best. That was probably just about his best.
“He was beaten by a very good horse that has been very well trained. We did it the hard way and he was brave, so I am just thrilled. We would be thinking of Liverpool, hopefully conditions will come up our way, but I expect Paisley Park will be going there as well.”
Willie Mullins was proud of Faugheen’s effort in defeat.
He said: “Coming down the hill I thought, ‘wow this is on’, but age just probably caught up with him and he might have liked the ground a bit softer, but that is the way it is.
“Just before the turn from Sam Spinner pulled out that bit more and he couldn’t go with him.
“Bapaume stayed on well for fourth, so we are delighted with him. He will go to Punchestown and maybe have a novice chase career next year.
“I’d imagine Faugheen will go to Punchestown and he might go on to France. He is still a very good horse. I’ve not discussed anything, but I would imagine he will go to Punchestown.