Gemmell fears an upset as conditions give Paisley Park owner grounds for concern
Andrew Gemmell is worried. Paisley Park, the sport's supreme marathon hurdler, is a red-hot favourite for the Long Walk Hurdle but his odds provide the owner with little comfort. While most people expect another tour de force, Gemmell fears the weather could lead to an Ascot shock being sprung.
This time last year we knew about Paisley Park. Following his breakthrough triumph in Ascot's festive Grade 1 we knew a lot more. The same could be said of the immensely likeable Gemmell, who has become as popular as the horse now seeking to stretch his unbeaten run to seven.
Indeed, last season's Stayers' Hurdle hero has not been beaten since the previous year's Cheltenham Festival, at which he performed way below par on the softest ground he has yet to encounter. Unless a heatwave appears from nowhere, the Emma Lavelle-trained superstar – who defeated Thistlecrack on his Newbury reappearance – will encounter an even softer racing surface when contesting the prize this time being staged as the Marsh Hurdle.
"I am feeling the pressure a little bit," says Gemmell. "We are in the position now where we know we have the best horse but I think the ground conditions open us up to an upset.
"It is the unknown. He has never run in conditions as desperate as those he is going to find at Ascot. He once ran poorly on really soft ground at Cheltenham but he was still filling out at the time following a serious illness. The ground this time is going to be worse.
"I'm quite worried about it but we've got to run. If we didn't go to Ascot we would be waiting for the Cleeve and if that was affected by bad weather we would have nothing until the Stayers'."
Gemmell adds: "Emma and I felt more nervous about the Newbury race than we had before any of his races last season. We just wanted to make sure he was back. He showed that day that he has come back but I'm still resigned to the fact things might not happen on Saturday. I just hope they do. Logically he should win but the ground is an imponderable."
What is absolutely beyond doubt is that Gemmell has been enjoying a wonderful run of success.
In November he was at Flemington as a winning part-owner with True Self, while three weeks later, and 24 hours after Paisley Park's comeback victory, he was triumphant again when De Rasher Counter – in which he has a share – landed the Ladbrokes Trophy for Lavelle's yard. The glory spree has subsequently continued, with Gemmell named owner of the year by the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association and the Racehorse Owners Association.
"You would be silly not to have enjoyed what I've experienced these last few weeks," says Gemmell. "You have to enjoy it while you can. I'm sure there must be a kicking just around the corner!
"I was thrilled to get the HWPA award. I suppose I had a slight inkling I might get that one but I was very surprised to get the ROA award because I thought Prince Khalid Abdullah was a shoo-in.
"The warmth of the reception I keep being given is fantastic. I even have people wanting selfies with me. I've had an incredible ride since we won last year's Long Walk and I've thoroughly enjoyed it."
Assuming his muddy fears prove groundless, Gemmell should have much more to enjoy at Ascot.
Did you know you can bet via the Racing Post mobile app/website? Simply sign in with your favourite bookmaker via the Accounts button and then bet direct from our racecards