Dashel Drasher produced a gutsy display to hold off the fast-finishing Paisley Park in a thrilling conclusion to the Coral Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
Jeremy Scott’s Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up was sent off the 2-1 second favourite in the hands of Rex Dingle and showed huge improvement on his Wetherby reappearance, when only third in the West Yorkshire Hurdle.
It was Patrick Neville’s Mahons Glory who wasted no time in building up a hefty lead in the early stages, as the other five runners were well-grouped, content to bide their time.
With the business end of the Grade Two event approaching, 20-1 shot Flight Deck led the field into the straight but Dashel Drasher was snapping at his heels and had taken over by the time the final flight approached.
The 10-year-old jumped the last with a narrow advantage, with Dingle soon in full flow searching for the line, as Tom Bellamy in his wing mirrors conjured up the customary end-of-race flourish from Paisley Park.
However, despite the petrol tank flashing red and Dashel Drasher’s lead narrowing with every stride, he was never headed by Paisley Park and showed plenty of heart to pull out extra and score by a head.
“I was worried to death when I saw Paisley Park there, because wasn’t he coming,” Scott told ITV Racing.
“It’s lovely to see the old boys going head-to-head and I thought Paisley Park ran a brilliant race there. A bit further and he might have done us. It was a great race to watch.
“You start to wonder whether Dashel Drasher had lost his spark. He was beaten so many times last year, but only into second, and you just think it must take its toll. You have to keep picking yourself up and go again.
“So, you do wonder whether or not he still had it and that fight, but he did fight today. It’s his kind of trademark and you are always terrified he might lose the trademark, but he keeps fighting, doesn’t he.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him and it’s lovely. It is such a roller-coaster ride having a horse as good as that and it’s just lovely to be a part of it.”
It was a case of history repeating itself for the connections of Paisley Park, who has competed in the race now for five straight years and came off second best in a similar ding-dong battle with Champ 12 months ago.
Trainer Emma Lavelle was magnanimous in defeat and was thrilled to see the fire still burns bright in her popular 11-year-old.
She said: “It was a great run, it was just so near, yet so far.
“He’s run fantastic and given away 6lb to the winner and done everything in typical Paisley style, he just clearly hasn’t learnt where the winning post is at Newbury.
“Tom has given him a brilliant ride and had Barry (Fenton) in one ear and Aidan (Coleman) in the other telling him how to ride, so he’s had plenty of instruction and he carried it out fantastically.
“He’s run in that race so many times and he’s won it once, but it was like deja vu from last year. I was delighted with him.”
Lavelle also confirmed Ascot’s Howden Long Walk Hurdle on December 23 would be up next for Paisley Park, with Coral making him a 5-1 chance to defend the title he won for a third time when the race was switched to Kempton last Christmas.
She added: “Ascot is the plan, he’s been there plenty before and as I’ve said all along, each race will stand in isolation and we will see what happens going forward.
“He definitely deserves a crack at that and he’s a star, he completely is, and it was brilliant to see the same Paisley back in action.”