Gemmell joy as timely surge completes fairytale for Paisley Park in Stayers'
On a day drenched in thrilling drama and joyous emotion, the moment that might live longest in the memory occurred in the parade ring as the outcome of the Stayers’ Hurdle all of a sudden looked written.
It came as Paisley Park woke from his slumber coming to the final flight and began a surge down the wide outside that simultaneously lifted the Cotswolds mood. “Paisley Park is getting going now,” commentator Ian Bartlett boomed.
In an instant, a flock of photographers and camera operators descended on the spot occupied by Andrew Gemmell, whose jolly outlook so inspires those around him and has captured the public imagination amid the exposure his prized equine possession has bestowed on him.
It was an unexpected theatrical sequence. Gemmell has been blind from birth, yet here was a mass of bodies training their sights in his direction to observe him enjoying an event that he could picture only in his imagination. That’s the force of his magnetic appeal.
A roar that felt like it made the spanking new Cheltenham stands groan confirmed to him that his gem of a horse was on the march.
Until then, Paisley Park had lumbered away harmlessly in behind under Aidan Coleman. As Faugheen led from Sam Spinner under a motionless Ruby Walsh at the second-last flight, it looked as if Gemmell's dream was over.
Faugheen's gallant performance played a huge part in an epic Grade 1 spectacle, but the petrol gauge crashed when Walsh put his foot on the accelerator and the complexion of the race quickly changed.
Emma Lavelle’s seven-year-old had emerged by stealth from behind a clatter of horses to crash through the final flight, but the image of his oversized pricked ears remaining unmoved was something to behold.
Coleman promptly pulled him together and the 11-8 favourite was still drawing away from Sam Spinner at the line, crowning a Hollywood comeback for a horse whose life was in jeopardy when he suffered a bad bout of colic two years ago.
“It’s wonderful, a real dream for me,” gushed an emotional Gemmell. “I can’t believe it’s happened. I’m so chuffed, for Emma, Barry [Fenton, Lavelle’s partner) and Aidan."
Paisley Park’s racing style evokes memories of some of this discipline's most revered protagonists, a comparison that has connections salivating at the prospect of more glory.
“He's in the Big Buck’s and Baracouda mould, he really is,” Gemmell added. “He hits that flat spot but comes again. Let’s hope it’s the first of many and we can keep coming back.”
“It’s different gravy,” Lavelle beamed after her star had received a rousing Cheltenham reception. “It’s just a different level. People are giving him three cheers. It’s just phenomenal.
“You kind of feel these fairytales don’t happen, and the most emotional I’ve been is after Frodon won for Bryony [Frost]. I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s amazing, but now she’s gone and stolen the whole fairytale.’ But we got a chunk of it, so it’s okay.”
On this day of days, there was more than enough magic to grant Lavelle's third festival success. Paisley Park’s triumph was a second for Coleman, ten years after his first.
The rider had won the Welsh Grand National on Emperor’s Choice in 2014 but, having eschewed the mount on Mon Mome at Aintree in 2009, his career lacked a marquee horse. Until now.
“I'm 30 and am only about ten away from 1,000 winners, so I've been doing it an awfully long time,” he reflected.
“These races have eluded me, but at the same time I know how to ride a horserace. I was very confident and relaxed beforehand. I played my Xbox last night and again this morning, then I came here and it went how I expected it to go.
“If you can get him to the bottom of the hill in contention, or close to it, you know he'll come up it.”
Coleman’s first thoughts were for his old pal Campbell Gillies, the festival-winning rider who died in a tragic swimming pool accident in Corfu in 2012.
“It means the world,” he added. “Campbell was a great friend of mine and I'll never forget him."
Having watched Faugheen go out on his shield, Willie Mullins confirmed the 11-year-old would now head for Punchestown.
"I thought the game was on but age just caught up with him," said the trainer.
Age, but also a similarly redoubtable force of nature.
In life, Gemmell has been denied one of the five senses. This, though, was something he didn't need to see to believe. It was meant to be.
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