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 wins 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, brought up in Shropshire by Scottish parents 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: “He’s delivered for us the whole season and he’s done it again. I’m thrilled.
“He was a bit further back that I expected, but the man in charge [jockey Aidan 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.”
In the previous race, Frost had become the first woman to ride a Grade One winner over jumps at the Festival when the Paul Nicholls-trained Frodon produced a tremendous front-running performance.
Already a four-time winner at Prestbury Park, Frodon was a 9-2 chance stepping up to the highest level, with Nicholls eventually deciding to run in this event rather that today’s Magners Gold Cup.
As is his wont, Frodon went straight to the front and produced some prodigious leaps under a swashbuckling ride from Frost. The challengers queued up from the home turn, but one by one Frodon saw them off to prevail by a length and a quarter.
Frost said: “My god, he jumps and just at that minute when he got overtaken, most horses would quit, but he grabbed me by the hands and said, ‘don’t you dare give up, don’t you dare not send me into the last – I want this more than you, now come on, where are you’.
“He just made the dream come true, it’s just incredible. He will deserve every single high five, pat and carrot.”
Frost, 23, was already a Festival winner, having landed the 2017 Foxhunter Chase as an amateur aboard the Nicholls-trained Pacha Du Polder. She broke her Grade One duck later that year when steering Black Corton to success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day – emulating Lizzie Kelly, who became the first woman to ride a Grade One winner over fences on Tea For Two in the same race two years earlier.
Frost added: “The support we’ve had from the crowd, coming in, was amazing and he knows it’s all for him. This is a big team effort and I’m so pleased it’s all come together.”