Paisley Park raises stakes for globe trotting owner Gemmell

Paisley Park
Paisley Park

Owner Andrew Gemmell is struggling to contain his excitement over Paisley Park's bid for Cheltenham Festival glory in the Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle.

Gemmell, 66, has been blind since birth yet has experienced some of the world's greatest sporting occasions - travelling the globe to follow England's cricketers, attending the Australian Open and in racing the Melbourne Cup and Kentucky Derby.

His interest in racing was sparked at an early age, listening to radio commentaries of the sport's great events.

He said: "I think of all sports, racing is great in that respect.

"You can get the commentary on the radio - or if you're at the races it is on the tannoy - and that's all I need."

Gemmell enrolled in a 'horse racing for the blind' scheme as a child - but his need for speed meant he did not last long.

He said: "Basically, I wanted the horses to go faster than the people in charge wanted them to - and ended up getting barred!

"You'd get led round by someone on the front rein, and they would only get the horse into a trot or canter - but I wanted to go faster, so I started booting hard and shouting 'gallop'. My guide went mad and told my mum she didn't want me back."

While boarding at the Royal National College for the Blind, Gemmell would ask the maintenance man to place bets at a nearby betting shop in Shrewsbury - on occasions even sneaking out to do so himself.

He had already enjoyed plenty of success in racehorse ownership before Paisley Park came along.

Notably part of the syndicate which owned Ed Dunlop's 2015 Ascot Gold Cup hero Trip To Paris, he was the only owner in attendance when he was beaten half-a-length in the Caulfield Cup later that year.

Trip To Paris then went on to finish fourth in the Melbourne Cup.

"I first got involved with ownership with Million In Mind 21 years ago - Anthony Bromley does a remarkably good job with them," he said.

"I got involved with Trip To Paris late - after he won the Gold Cup - but I was the only owner there when he ran in the Caulfield Cup, which was a great thrill. He then ran really well in the Melbourne Cup, before unfortunately getting injured in Japan.

"I've also been involved with Favourites Racing and I bought my first horse outright in 2007, Seymar Lad. We bought him out of Peter Beaumont's yard, and he won four races for us - which was great.

"I then had a nice mare called Elegant Touch, who won a couple of races and then unfortunately dropped dead, and I'm also involved in the syndicate that owns Fox Appeal - who has been a great servant.

"I think I'm involved in 20-odd horses at the moment, including Paul Nolan's Discorama, who is another who could go to Cheltenham - depending on the ground.

"I own him with Thomas Friel, who is the landlord of the pub we go to before watching West Ham, where I'm a season-ticket holder."

The undoubted star of the Gemmell string is Emma Lavelle's seven-year-old Paisley Park.

A smart performer last season, he came up short in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival but has raised his game hugely this term to win all four starts.

Handicap victories at Aintree and Haydock were followed by a top-level triumph in the Long Walk at Ascot and a facile success in last month's Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Reflecting on his latest performance, Gemmell said: "It was unbelievable. He had to give weight away to a lot of horses, because he'd won a Grade One, but the way he confirmed the form with West Approach (runner-up at Ascot and Cheltenham) was incredible.

"I think we knew going into the season we had a well-handicapped horse - and Aintree was great.

"But I think it was the way he won the race at Haydock with top-weight that made us think about giving him a go at the top level - and then he went and won the Long Walk.

"We were thinking about taking him straight to the Festival. But 12 weeks is a long time to keep a horse on the boil, and we decided it would be good to give him another run, take him back to Cheltenham to see if he handled the track."

That decision meant Gemmell gave up tickets for the Australian Open semi-finals and final - but it was a straightforward call.

He added: "I've been to the Australian Open a few times, and I actually normally go out early to watch the cricket as well.

"Once it became clear Paisley Park was going to Cheltenham, I had no hesitation giving the tickets to a good friend of mine - because his son had just had his 18th birthday, and I thought it would be a nice present.

"I think it worked out well for everyone!"


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Paisley Park is as short as 7/4 to continue his winning streak - but Gemmell is taking nothing for granted.

He said: "I think what people sometimes forget is this horse was really ill two years ago. For him to come back and do what he's done has been incredible.

"It's very exciting. I know a lot of people are starting to talk about him as one of the bankers of the week, but I never look at it like that. He was 25-1 non-runner no-bet for the Stayers' before Ascot, so I had a bit on.

"I absolutely love the Cheltenham Festival. I love Flat racing as well, but I just think the jumps is that bit more affordable for an owner.

"I will be going to my 10th Melbourne Cup this year; I've been to Paris for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe; I've been to the Dubai World Cup and the Kentucky Derby as well, which were all really good - but Cheltenham is a bit special.

"I go every year with lots of friends - and I can't wait to go back."


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