The star of Cheltenham’s Festival Trials day (29 January) was undoubtedly Paisley Park and he joins a handful of other leading names to have laid down their credentials for the Cheltenham Festival in March after eye-catching performances that day. Here are three key names who should be going on your Cheltenham Festival ones to watch list…
The comeback of a popular old warrior always goes down well and, on Cheltenham Trials day, the crowd roared home Paisley Park (pictured) in the Welsh Marches Stallions at Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle. His win was far from straightforward, however, as he dwelt (or, possibly, thought twice about this whole racing malarky) and gave his rivals a dozen lengths at the start. That looked game over, but, aided by a steady pace, his jockey Aidan Coleman gradually rejoined his four rivals and travelled through the race more sweetly than he has done for a season or so.
“You got us into this mess, you get us out of it,” was Coleman’s thinking.
Down the hill, Paisley Park invariably came off the bridle but, as he does, he went into overdrive up the hill and picked off the odds-on shot Champ, another 10-year-old, to win by 3¼ lengths. With Klassical Dream and, to a certain extent, Champ fluffing their lines, do not, on the back of this, rule Paisley Park out of a second Stayers Hurdle, which he last won in 2019. He missed this race last year when it was moved to Wetherby. It will have set him up a treat for the Cheltenham Festival in March and, given the rousing reception he was given on Saturday, victory there would lift the roof off the Princess Royal stand.
“It’s really emotional,” said his trainer Emma Lavelle. “The support he gets is amazing. Everyone knows how much he tries. Andrew [Gemmell, his owner] is not here today which is a sadness, but he’s very chirpy in his hospital bed after that.
“He’ll come back in March and hopefully it will be a bit more straightforward than that! But that was the proper Paisley and we haven’t seen that for a while. He’s a special horse. He owes us nothing, we owe him so much.”
British hopes for the Boodles Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in March look pretty thin on the ground. By virtue of staying at home, the Dan Skelton-trained Protektorat looks the best of them and he has yet to prove he will get a stiff 3¼ miles. The one thing you can, at least, guarantee with Chantry House, winner of the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase on Saturday, is that he will stay. He really did not look like the winner until they lined up for home and Santini, his former stablemate now back with Polly Gundry but second in the Gold Cup two years ago, pushed him all the way in a gruelling race for his 2½-length win.
I am not sure the cheekpieces made a whole lot of difference, but trainer Nicky Henderson explained he had put them on for the Cotswold Chase rather than wait to deploy them in the Gold Cup because he felt the eight-year-old by Yeats had to win on Saturday.
“He had to win today to stay in the game,” explained the trainer. “If he hadn’t, he’d have no business in the Gold Cup. It was a tough race. They had to work hard. It’s lovely ground but it’s not helping them. We’ll take the positives.”
The most impressive thing on Cheltenham Trials day was the nine-length victory of Pied Piper, bred by The Queen, in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial. And if the Derby is out of reach in The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, there must be a good chance of her breeding a Cheltenham Festival winner whether the four-year-old goes for the Triumph Hurdle – his stablemate Fil Dor who wears the same silks is meant to be better – or the Supreme Novices.
He won a couple of races for The Queen on the Flat with John Gosden. He was available to British trainers but, eventually, went to Andy and Gemma Brown, who race their horses under their business Caldwell Construction, for 225,000 guineas at Tattersalls horses-in-training sale in the autumn. They are becoming pretty big players in the Gordon Elliott set-up. I cannot recall seeing too many easier winners at Cheltenham.
- Read Marcus’s full report on the weekend’s racing action in Horse & Hound, in shops on Thursday 3 February
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