Paisley Park’s journey has been anything but ordinary.
Showing promise in 2017 after finishing second in a novice bumper, the three-year-old contracted colic. A case so severe it could have cost the horse his life.
But after making a full recovery to win on his hurdling debut at the end of the year, Paisley Park would go on to win the 2018 and 2020 Long Walk Hurdles, the 2019, 2020 and unforgettably the 2022 Cleeve Hurdles, and of course, the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle.
We spoke to trainer Emma Lavelle about the horse’s remarkable career so far.
“Andrew Gemmill said he wanted to buy a store horse,” said Lavelle. “Gerry Hogan, Barry and I would always go to the stores, look at all of them, and make a shortlist. For Barry, Paisley was always number one.
“He went into the ring and we bought him for £60,000, so I rang Andrew and said: ‘Andrew, you’ll never guess what, we’ve bought this lovely three-year-old store by Oscar, absolutely perfect for you.’ He’s just been an extraordinary horse that’s been on an incredible journey from the moment the hammer dropped.
“Everything was very straightforward with him in the early stages in that he was beautifully behaved to break in and there was plenty of spark about him but he was all good.
“He had his first run in a bumper where he finished 2nd and we were absolutely delighted; a really promising horse for the future.”
It was then that the career, and even life, of a promising young horse threatened to be cut short.
“He came back from that and was fine for the first week or so, but then he just wasn’t right, and he was starting to go downhill so he finished up then being taken into the vets,” said Lavelle.
“He came back six weeks later healthy insofar as no longer showing colic symptoms but he looked so thin, and so weak, we spent all summer just building him up and it was testament to the horse of how mentally and physically able he is that he came back even from that.
“He had his first run in a novice hurdle at Hereford. It was just a normal, basic novice hurdle. He was always a bit gawky at that stage with his schooling and we thought, he’s a nice horse, let’s see what happens.
“He went out and won it really impressively from a horse call Vision Des Flos. It would be an unusual step for us to run a horse in a Grade 2 novice hurdle in its next start but he just gave you that feeling of something a little bit special.
“We ran him in the Grade 2 Leamington at Warwick his next start and he just got beaten and finished second. All of that season was all about learning;
The following season saw the biggest win of Paisley Park’s career.
“We went to Aintree with him for the October meeting,” said Lavelle. “He ran in a 2m4f handicap hurdle that day, and he just got stronger physically, physically more mature and he came out and he absolutely bolted up. It was a blemish-free season ending up in him winning the Stayers’, so it really was a magical year.
“You dream of having a horse like him, and I think that it is something that so many people don’t get lucky enough to experience.
“He’s had to fight his way back. He’s 10 years old, and the resilience that he’s shown with various things that have gone wrong and he’s been up for the challenge and he’s showed that with the Cleeve last time.”
While the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle may have been Paisley’s Park’s biggest win, the 2022 Cleeve Hurdle as his most impressive. Left behind at the start and reluctant to race, he ate up the ground, got up the hill and beat Champ by three lengths.
“We were very relaxed,” said Lavelle. “The tapes went up and it was like ‘oh you’ve got to be kidding me, all this work and he’s now thinking ‘maybe not today’ so there was that moment and once he jumped off he jumped straight into the bridle, travelling away. Aidan [Coleman, jockey] was able to allow him to make his ground steadily, didn’t force him, then once the race developed, he was jumping well and making that ground.
“We could all start to enjoy it and watch it and he travelled well into the race, trademark Paisley, hit the hill, ears pricked and off he went.
“It was just a great day and a very emotional day for all of us to be back in that position again. Going to Cheltenham – at this stage anyway – he’s in great order, we’ve had a really nice season with him, he’s shown he’s back to his best, it would just be a phenomenal achievement, from everybody,
“But he owes us nothing. Paisley has been the most fantastic horse to be around and he has brought so much into our lives, and for this place he just came along at the absolute perfect time, so win lose or draw we still owe so much to him. It’s been an extraordinary journey and we are so privileged to have him.”