Racing Legend Retires: Thanks for the Memories Paisley Park

The 2024 Cheltenham Festival created many lasting memories, from the jaw-dropping brilliance of Ballyburn to another sublime display from Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup, to mention only two of the stellar performances on the track. However, one of the most rapturous receptions was reserved not for a winner but a horse who finished only 10th in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

We are, of course, referring to the magnificent staying star, Paisley Park. Having entertained the masses since 2017, he danced his last dance at the springtime showpiece. Now 12 years of age, we all knew this day would come sooner rather than later. Anticipated or not, the odd tear hit the Cheltenham turf when trainer Emma Lavelle announced the horse’s retirement following the Day 3 feature.

Many horses hit the headlines over the years, but few forge the type of bond that exists between Paisley Park and his adoring fans. As Paisley digs out his pipe and slippers for a well-earned rest, here we look back at just what made the son of Oscar so special.

The Racecourse Performances

Starting with the most obvious, Paisley Park was a very talented racehorse. Having shown promise in his debut campaign, his second season allowed the gelding to reveal the full extent of his ability as he embarked upon a golden seven-race winning streak between October 2018 and 25 January 2020. When all was said and done, the lovable star had racked up over £700,000 in total prize money and won 11 of 31 career starts, including the following Graded highlights.

  • Stayers’ Hurdle 2019
  • Long Walk Hurdle 2018, 2020, 2022
  • Cleeve Hurdle 2019, 2020, 2022
  • Long Distance Hurdle 2019
  • Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle 2018

That 2018 Long Walk Hurdle victory represented a first top-level success for the Emma Lavelle yard, whilst his trio of wins in the Cleeve Hurdle make him the joint most successful horse in the history of that Cheltenham event, alongside Lady Rebecca.

When not winning those Graded staying contests, our ever-willing star was invariably putting up a gallant effort to do so – finishing a close second in the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle (2018), the Long Distance Hurdle (2020,2022, 2023), the Long Walk Hurdle (2023) and the Cleeve Hurdle (2024).

The Late Running Style

Paisley Park certainly isn’t the only horse to rack up such a sequence of top-level successes, but few have done so in such a thrilling style. Far from cruising to victory, the horse seemingly sought to squeeze every last drop of excitement from any race in which he was involved, with the majority of his victories following a pattern of travelling just off the pace, hitting a flat spot and appearing to be going nowhere, and finally, taking off like an express train to reel them all in on the run for the line. Thrilling stuff, and rarely better demonstrated than in the 2020 Long Walk Hurdle.

Whilst the 2020 Long Walk Hurdle represented Paisley Park’s favoured method of victory, it would be remiss not to mention what was perhaps his most bafflingly brilliant performance of all.

That improbable display came in the 2022 Cleeve Hurdle. Having failed to fire in his first three starts of the season, Paisley Park went off as a 5/1 shot in a field of five, behind red-hot favourite Champ. Any thoughts that this would be the day the star bounced back to form looked optimistic in advance and a mere pipe dream moments after the runners set off.

Rather than set off with his rivals, Paisley Park opted to turn his back as the starter gave his orders, allowing the others a 12-length head start before consenting to set off in pursuit. For most horses, that would signal the end of their winning chances, and Paisley Park didn’t appear to be on the verge of bucking that trend when bringing up the rear over the third last. Having burnt up early energy to erase that disastrous start, surely he couldn’t find his trademark turbo this time. Of course he could, as he powered up the hill to score by a comfortable three and a quarter lengths in a remarkable win.

Andrew Gemmell

All of the above is sufficient to create a racing legend, but we are yet to touch on the aspect of the tale that cemented the horse into the hearts of the racing public – his adoring owner Andrew Gemmell. What makes Gemmell so special is that, whilst most of us watched Paisley Park’s exploits in all their glory, Andrew didn’t see any of it.

Blind since birth, Gemmell fostered a love of sport from a young age, immersing himself in the radio commentary from test matches, heavyweight boxing bouts, and his beloved West Ham United – whose claret and blue colours inspired the Gemmell silks. And then came horseracing – a passion which would grip Gemmell as a teenager and refuse to let go, leading to owning shares in racehorses and on to his crowning glory, Paisley Park, the horse who would take Gemmell to all of the biggest days he had listened to on his handheld radio back in his youth.

Gemmell may not have “seen” those famous wins in the conventional sense, but he certainly felt them, with the palpable excitement and joy of his post-race interviews lending an irresistible human element to this wonderful sporting tale. For his part, Paisley Park only endeared himself further to his fan club with his gentle nuzzling of Gemmell in the Winner’s Enclosure, creating a sporting duo to thaw the frostiest of hearts. He may be gone from the track, but here is a horse who won’t be forgotten any time soon.