Sport can be uplifting in so many ways, but there wasn’t a better sight all Saturday than that of owner Andrew Gemmell, blind since birth, standing in the Cheltenham parade ring thrilling to the racecourse commentary of Ian Bartlett as his Paisley Park powered clear for a famous victory in the galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle.
Gemmell is a huge sports fan and had tickets for the Australian Open, so it was a big call to stay at home for a cold, wet day at Cheltenham, where his recent Ascot winner was taking on a ‘who’s who’ of live Stayers’ Hurdle candidates in what looked about the most open race of the day.
The style in which the Emma Lavelle-trained seven-year-old burst clear when Aidan Coleman pressed the button was somewhat unexpected, but there was no fluke and he came home 12 lengths clear despite idling up the hill.
This was much the strongest of the afternoon’s many trials for the Cheltenham Festival™, Presented by Magners, and Paisley Park looks head and shoulders above his home-trained rivals in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Even last year’s winner Penhill and classy compatriots like Faugheen on the other side of the Irish Sea are going to have their work cut out preventing him from following up on March 13, just as previous Cleeve winners like Inglis Drever, Big Buck’s and Thistlecrack have in the past.
Week after week we see Bryony Frost interviewed on horseback after yet another big win - heart on sleeve and emotions running high, yet insisting that all the credit belongs to her mount.
In some respects Frodon’s gutsy front-running win in the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase was the biggest yet for the Jockey Club Racecourses ambassador, for it thrust the pair firmly into the reckoning for racing’s most prestigious prize, the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Frodon, who 12 months earlier had won one of the handicaps on the same card, had it all to prove in this better grade over a much longer trip. But, afterwards, Bryony reckoned she had never ridden a horse with such heart, adding that it had been “the best buzz there is” and describing Frodon as “a complete pleasure”.
Matt Chapman on ITV was adamant that Paul Nicholls had got it wrong in favouring the Gold Cup over the Ryanair as the Cheltenham Festival target, and it’s true that Frodon would be more likely to win the shorter race.
But only the hardest of hearts would deny Frost and owner PJ Vogt a crack at the big one while their pride and joy is at the top of his game, and the Gold Cup is undoubtedly the more sporting choice. A win in that race would make Frost the first female jockey to land Jump racing’s biggest prize.
While Frodon is Gold Cup bound, it’s worth remembering that the Cotswold Chase can be every bit as much a trial for the Grand National, and Welsh National winner Elegant Escape franked his Aintree credentials with a powerful finish in second. The only negative is that he will now be very close to top weight there.
Off what is sure to be a lower weight and at longer odds you might want to bear fourth-placed Allysson Monterg in mind for April 6, as he travelled as well as the winner most of the way.
Joseph O’Brien heads to the Cheltenham Festival with a formidable hand in the JCB Triumph Hurdle after Fakir D’Oudairies joined his stable-mate Sir Erec at the head of the ante-post market with a runaway win in the Trial, a race which has produced the race-day favourite in three of the last four years.
The record book will show Fakir D’Oudairies as O’Brien’s first winner at Cheltenham, but everyone knows he was effectively in the driving seat, though still waiting for his trainer’s licence, when Ivanovich Gorbatov won the 2016 Triumph.
Fakir D’Oudairies beat a strong field impressively, but Sir Erec was third to champion stayer Stradivarius at Royal Ascot last year and might have a bit more class.
There was little in it when Brewin’upastorm fell at the last in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and left Birchdale a mile clear.
It was great to see Brewin’upastorm and champion jockey Richard Johnson rise unscathed, but if the race had significance as a trial for the Ballymore itself on the Wednesday of the Cheltenham Festival it was probably that it paid a compliment to Champ, Birchdale’s stable-mate, who was at home at Seven Barrows and oblivious to what was going on 45 miles away.
Champ had Brewin’upastorm back in fourth in last month’s Challow Hurdle and already looks much more the finished article.
Dynamite Dollars took advantage of Lalor’s absence to pick up another significant prize in Doncaster’s Lightning Novices’ Chase, underlining his Arkle Chase credentials with a performance that was more convincing than the winning margin suggests.
Lalor beat Dynamite Dollars comprehensively at Cheltenham in November, and he remains the one to beat on March 12 if we can accept that he was unable to handle the ground when such a disappointing third behind Dynamite Dollars at Sandown next time.
We won’t see him again in the meantime, so we’ll just have to take it on trust.