Blind owner who flew from Australia to be at Cheltenham Festival celebrates incredible victory as his horse Paisley Park wins Stayers’ Hurdle
- Paisley Park left it late to win the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Thursday
- His blind owner Andrew Gemmell celebrated an emotional victory
- Gemmell had flown over from Australia as his horse was on the paddock
Trainer Emma Lavelle feared when Bryony Frost landed the Ryanair Chase on Frodon that the Cheltenham fairytale quota had been used up for the day.
She needn’t have worried. Everything at the Festival comes in double portions.
Lavelle-trained Paisley Park blew the roof off the stand as he landed the Stayers’ Hurdle with a withering run from an unpromising position on the home turn, surviving a last-hurdle blunder to beat Jedd O’Keeffe-trained pacesetter Sam Spinner by two and three-quarter lengths.
Andrew Gemmell celebrates an emotional victory for Paisley Park at Cheltenham
If Wednesday’s atmosphere was all about respect for the masterful Champion Chaser Altior, yesterday’s crowd was more raw. They overdosed on joyous emotion as Paisley Park wrote a perfect ending to one of the stories of the meeting.
Since he won the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas, the Festival dreams of Paisley Park and his blind, sports-mad owner Andrew Gemmell had captivated more and more people.
That showed as Gemmell, wearing a West Ham scarf, accompanied his horse into the winner’s enclosure with jockey Aidan Coleman wearing his claret and blue silks to raucous cheers.
The blind racehorse owner had flown over from Australia to watch Thursday’s race
Lavelle said: ‘The weird thing was I felt calm until the race was about to start and then I thought I was about to burst into tears. ‘The most emotional I have been was when Frodon won. I watched that thinking it was amazing, but Bryony had stolen the whole fairytale. Then we got a chunk of it, so it was OK. ‘If the will of the people was anything to go by, this horse was going to win.
‘He had so many people behind him. They were probably blowing him up the hill. I cannot say how bad our hangovers are going to be tomorrow.’
Lavelle admitted she was slightly worried as the runners turned for home, but Paisley Park, who nearly died two years ago after an illness that was never diagnosed, produced the turbocharged finish which is beginning to become his trademark.
The trainer said: ‘We watched the race thinking he was too far out of his ground, but Aidan knew what he had and said he still got there too soon.
‘Those real, true stayers need to travel off the bridle and find it when they are asked. ‘That is what he has done. He has had a proper race today. I am so proud of him.
‘I watched from the stands and had a Tannoy directly in front of me blocking my view of the last hurdle, so thank god I never saw the mistake.
‘Apart from that, Aidan said he probably jumped as well as he has ever jumped.’
It was when former civil servant Gemmell, an MCC member and West Ham season-ticket holder, met Lavelle’s newspaper editor brother Alex while watching a cricket game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground that the seeds were sown for having a horse in training with her.
Gemmell celebrates with the trophy after winning the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham
Alex had flown over from Australia to watch the race. Islington-based Gemmell said: ‘This has been a brilliant journey and I have enjoyed it all the way. I’ve been to Cheltenham for years and years. It is something else to be in the winner’s enclosure.
‘Paisley Park is a bit like (previous Stayers’ Hurdle winners) Big Buck’s and Baracouda in that he does hit a flat spot in his races but he keeps finding.’
Gemmell named Paisley Park after the recording complex and home of the late US singer songwriter Prince.
Asked to sum up his feelings about his horse, Gemmell chose another song written by Prince, saying: ‘In the words of the man who lived at Paisley Park, nothing compares to you.’
Jockey Aidan Coleman (right) rode favourite Paisley Park to victory ahead of the rest