ITV Racing main man Ed Chamberlin reflects on Trials Day at Cheltenham where Paisley Park did what he does best in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Sport doesn’t often follow a script but today’s racing certainly did.
We spoke at length in the Sporting Life Racing Podcast about the importance of public horses earlier in the week, particularly on a main ITV channel day with a huge audience, and a lot rested on Paisley Park and Lady Buttons on Saturday afternoon.
They both delivered in spectacular fashion.
It was textbook Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle. He plays with your emotions.
After he jumped the second last Aidan Coleman gave him a squeeze and the turbo kicked in. All is right with the world. Then he hit a little flat spot as Summerville Boy went clear. You think: oh no, he’s going to get beat.
But then, in the blink of an eye, the afterburners switch on. Ears pricked, he’s actually dossing! He’s not doing a jot and has won with a tonne in hand. Emma Lavelle loves him and she’s not the only one.
The Cheltenham roar. Papers flung in the air. The crowd lapped it up. He was the hero on Saturday and he’s perfect for the ITV audience for a couple of reasons.
Number one, this is a horse and an owner that has really caught the public’s imagination.
Number two, he’s crucial for us in terms of engaging sport fans ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
He’s got a bit of a way to go yet, but Paisley Park could be the next racing pin up. The poster boy.
It’s impossible for owner Andrew Gemmell’s reaction not to make your heart melt but Paisley Park is not just his horse now. He’s a public horse.
And that brings extra pressure on Lavelle and her husband Barry Fenton. They were so relieved afterwards, and, I may be biased because she’s a friend of mine, but Emma is a fantastic trainer and the nicest person you could wish to meet.
It’s healthy for the sport that she’s more than mixing with big guns like Willie Mullins now, but I would be staggered if the Closutton maestro runs Benie Des Dieux against Paisley Park in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
I’m convinced they’ll go the Mares’ Hurdle route and she’ll be their banker on day one. Why would he want to potentially bottom her against the monster that is Paisley Park? After all, she’s got an Aintree Hurdle to win the following month.
Lady lights up Town Moor again
It’s impossible not to smile when you watch Lady Buttons as well.
She was all class in the Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle up at Doncaster for the second successive year and her owner Jayne Sivills is living the dream.
Her family own and run a pub, The Tiger Inn in Easington in Yorkshire, so her story resonates with a TV audience as it shows that it is possible to hit the heights in National Hunt racing.
Her fan club is growing by the day and, while she was fourth in the Mares’ Hurdle last year and could run in that again, I’m told it is Jayne’s dream to have a runner in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Don’t be too surprised if that’s where she heads.
After five wins from six goes at Doncaster they’ll be thinking of naming a race after her on Town Moor, or maybe even a bar. They might have to rename the pub!
Back to Cheltenham and I was delighted to see Nicky Henderson win the Cotswold Chase for the first time since he won the inaugural running 40 years ago.
Santini did the business for him and he’s beginning now to live up to the hype that has surrounded him since his novice hurdle campaign.
I’m no judge of horseflesh, but even I could see he looked amazing in the parade ring beforehand and a few more seasoned paddock watchers (like Ruby Walsh) suggested that there was more to work on yet.
However, Ruby did also question whether he’d have the tactical speed that you need to win a Gold Cup. Sky Bet go 6/1 now but that would be on my mind. He’d need the ground to be testing, I think, to have a chance.
Bristol De Mai ran a belter in second and looked like he’d win jumping the last.
He’s such a sound jumper of a fence I’d love to see his owners give him the green light to run in a Grand National – he’d love those fences – and maybe the English handicapper would ensure he’ll get a few pounds from Tiger Roll?!
Elsewhere on the card Harry Senior showcased his potential when winning the Ballymore trial under Robbie Power.
We all had a chuckle when the winning jockey took a leaf out of the Walsh playbook in the live debrief, suggesting that Harry Senior should move up to three miles for the Albert Bartlett, ensuring he’d be free to ride Fiddlerontheroof in the Ballymore itself.
It was another win for Colin Tizzard and he has some serious ammunition for the novice hurdles at Cheltenham when you throw the likes of Master Debonair into the mix as well.
It was nice to get champion jockey Richard Johnson on the show and he was in remarkably good spirits despite nursing his broken arm.
It sounds like the Cheltenham Festival won’t be a problem for him but he’s obviously desperate to give Brian Hughes a fight for the jockeys’ championship.
His first question to me was whether there was snow forecast in the next couple of weeks! I’m no Michael Fish but it’s looking unlikely. I let him down gently.
Over in Ireland, Allaho won in facile fashion and I’ve been keeping a close eye on him as he was my horse to follow on these pages at the start of the season.
I still think he can be a contender for the RSA Chase, but, it has to be said, that antepost market and several others are set for a shake-up thanks to the looming presence of the Dublin Racing Festival next weekend.
We will feature that spectacular meeting on the show as we broadcast from Sandown next Saturday and there are some fascinating clashes in store, but none more so than Chacun Pour Soi v A Plus Tard v Cilaos Emery.
That promises to be a serious blockbuster.
We had a really enjoyable Trials Day where Paisley Park put down an ominous marker. Now, it’s over to the Irish.