Tag Archive for: Paisley Park

Dashel Drasher fends off late Paisley Park challenge

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.

Dashel Drasher jumps a hurdle in the home straight at Newbury
Dashel Drasher jumps a hurdle in the home straight at Newbury (David Davies/PA)

“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.”

Paisley Park had to settle for second once again at Newbury
Paisley Park had to settle for second once again at Newbury (John Walton/PA)

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.”

Pace key to Paisley Park’s Festival hopes

Emma Lavelle believes a quicker pace in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle is vital if Paisley Park is to reclaim the title.

Winner of the race back in 2019, he has finished third behind Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter for the last two years.

Despite being 11, he showed he is still a force to be reckoned with when winning the rearranged Long Walk Hurdle at Kempton, but he was almost 10 lengths behind French raider Gold Tweet in the Cleeve Hurdle last time out.

“Paisley Park has come out of the Cleeve Hurdle well and seems in good order,” said Lavelle.

“He has had an easy time of it since, but we will start to build him back up for the Stayers’ Hurdle this week and roll into Cheltenham.

“I only feel he needs to step back up a little bit and if he does, then he won’t be far away in the Stayers’ Hurdle. They just didn’t go quick enough in the Cleeve.

“He hasn’t suddenly sprouted wings, the only reason he was in that position (handy) is that they hadn’t gone quick enough for him and then the quickening happened too late.

“When that happens he can’t then hit his flat spot and stay on while the others are coming back to him, which is what happened in the Cleeve.”

Lavelle also feels the form of her yard at the time may have played its part.

Emma Lavelle has her horses back in form
Emma Lavelle has her horses back in form (David Davies/PA)

“Our horses, until recently, haven’t been running great and we have had a number of them coughing and a few with snotty noses,” she said.

“I know he won a Grade One through all of that at Kempton Park over Christmas, but why wouldn’t he have something on him when everything else in the yard appears to have had it.

“He has been great for us for a good few seasons but we know it isn’t going to last forever as he is 11 years old now.

“He has been rated in the 160s for five seasons and there are not many horses, as the statistics show, that are rated above 150 in this country.

“When you look at how hard it is to get horses to be vaguely competitive at Cheltenham, we are lucky to have him.”

Lavelle points to lack of pace in Cleeve Hurdle as factor in Paisley Park defeat

Emma Lavelle believes a lack of pace was a major factor behind Paisley Park’s unsuccessful bid for a fourth successive victory in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The popular stayer was beaten nine and a half lengths into third in the Grade Two contest as French raider Gold Tweet caused a minor upset in the Cotswolds.

Next on Paisley Park’s agenda is a fifth tilt at the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival – a race he won in 2019 and has finished third in the past two seasons behind Flooring Porter.

The 11-year-old is a 20-1 shot to regain his crown with the race sponsors, but Lavelle is hopeful with a stronger gallop he can make his presence felt.

“He’s come out of it well. He seems good in himself, ate up overnight and seems absolutely fine,” said the Wiltshire-based trainer.

“I just think the fact that he was so close to the pace and travelling so comfortably suggested they just weren’t going quick enough for him to make it a test at the end of the race.

“There’s a myriad of reasons you could use or think or see, but for me they just hadn’t gone quick enough for him and Aidan (Coleman) slightly felt the same thing. He asked him, but wasn’t unreasonably hard on him coming up the hill, so we’ll just head on to the Stayers’, all things being equal.”

Gordon Elliott’s Galmoy Hurdle winner Teahupoo is the 11-4 favourite in a Stayers’ Hurdle market dominated by the Irish, with Home By The Lee, Blazing Khal and Flooring Porter all prominent, although the latter is far from certain to bid for the hat-trick following a recent setback.

Assessing the field, Lavelle added: “It does look wide-open and I think it always does going into that race. Teahupoo is a new one on the scene, obviously.

“With more runners at the Festival, they’re likely to go more of a gallop so we’ll see how we go.

“He’d had two hard races already this season before Saturday, but we can freshen him up now and get him back in March.

“He’s such an extraordinary horse and has been so good to us you can never be disappointed in him. Of course you want to win, but you can never walk away disappointed from those races as you know he’s always trying for you and we’ll see what comes next.”

Cleeve king Paisley Park back for more at Cheltenham

Paisley Park heads to Cheltenham seeking a fourth Dahlbury Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle success with connections of the 11-year-old confident his spark has been reignited.

The Emma Lavelle-trained fan-favourite has won the last three renewals of the Grade Two contest, although he missed out in 2021 when the meeting was abandoned.

Despite his advancing years, Paisley Park has looked as good as ever this term – finishing a neck runner-up to Champ in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, which will go down as arguably one of the races of the season, before earning a third Long Walk success at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Barry Fenton, Lavelle’s husband and assistant, feels the Andrew Gemmell-owned Oscar gelding is in ripe form as he takes on six rivals in a three-mile contest he has made his own.

“It just feels like the spark is back,” said Fenton. “When he was really well before, he would just get better with each run.

“Touch wood, he came out of Kempton really well and hasn’t missed a beat since.”

Winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2019, and third in the last two renewals to Flooring Porter, Paisley Park will again take in the Grade One contest on March 16 if all goes well.

Fenton added: “It was a good performance in the Stayers’ Hurdle last year and I think he probably wasn’t at his brightest.

“This year, even before I was saddling him at Kempton, he seemed really bright and well in himself, and he has kind of shown that at home.

“He is very willing at home, whereas last year he was making heavy weather of it a little bit.”

Paisley Park has earned a tremendous following thanks to his consistency and ability to claim victory from the jaws of defeat.

Fenton admits the yard are blessed to have such a flag-bearer, saying: “I think it is massive for the yard and for racing fans to have a horse like this.

“The longer it goes on, the more special it becomes. To think he is going back to try to win a fourth Cleeve Hurdle – you just don’t get horses like that.

“He is a credit to himself. He is just one of those horses who comes back year in, year out and keeps trying for us. He is a very special horse.”

Gelino Bello returns to hurdles after a fall in the Kauto Star at Kempton
Gelino Bello returns to hurdles after a fall in the Kauto Star at Kempton (Nigel French/PA)

Winner of the Grade One Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last April, Gelino Bello returns to the smaller obstacles after winning two of three novice chases for Paul Nicholls.

He fell four out in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and the champion trainer is keen to see how he fares back over hurdles.

“He just didn’t jump as well as he could have done at Kempton the other day. I think there were some shadows down the back straight and he lost confidence the first circuit. He was still going well when he fell at the last down the back,” said Nicholls.

“I think a run over hurdles won’t do him any harm and it might just sharpen him up a bit. If he went and won or ran very well, I’ve got the option of going for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with him. It is a bit of a fact-finding mission.

Dashel Drasher has stamina questions to answer
Dashel Drasher has stamina questions to answer (David Davies/PA)

“This weekend will tell us a lot, however he is not going there for a day out, he is going there and he will be doing his damnedest to win.

“If we are going to go for a Stayers’ Hurdle, we need to beat Paisley Park or run him very close.”

Jeremy Scott hopes Dashel Drasher can indicate he stays the trip, having chased home Marie’s Rock in the Relkeel Hurdle at the same track last time.

The 10-year-old has done much of his winning on flatter tracks at Ascot, Newbury and Aintree, but on ratings, he is most likely to put it up to Paisley Park.

Scott said: “He is very well and we’re looking forward to the race. It is competitive in terms of numbers and theoretically, with the weight allowances, we are second-highest rated, but it depends whether or not he stays three miles wholly around Cheltenham.

“I didn’t think he’s given any indication he wouldn’t, so I don’t see why he won’t run well.

“He ran well there the other day and hopefully he will give a good account and it will dictate where we go from there.”

The Somerset handler knows Paisley Park will take some beating if he returns in the same form as when winning last year.

He added: “I watched Paisley Park’s race last year when he got left at the start and I felt it was a phenomenal performance – and it was run at a very solid gallop, so he is going to take an awful lot of beating.

“The joy of National Hunt racing is that people latch on to horses like him – it’s great for the sport.”

Lord Accord has some big spring targets
Lord Accord has some big spring targets (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Lord Accord is another who returns from chasing, having finished ninth to Le Milos in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury. Though the outsider of the sextet, he is guaranteed to stay the trip.

His trainer, Neil Mulholland, said: “He’s been freshened up since Newbury and he’s fresh and well at the moment. But he has nicer targets in the spring and we did the same with The Druids Nephew – he ran in the Cleeve Hurdle before he won the Ultima and that is probably where Lord Accord will go.

“He handled Cheltenham when he won there in November, so we know he likes the track. We’ll give him a spin round over hurdles and see how we go.”

Lavelle backing Paisley Park to close gap with Flooring Porter

Paisley Park is reported to be in “great order” ahead of a fifth run in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Emma Lavelle’s stable star won the Paddy Power-backed Thursday feature in 2019 and his name was among the 28 possible runners for the contest when the entries were released on Tuesday.

Last seen defying the tight turns of Kempton when landing the rearranged Long Walk Hurdle on Boxing Day, the 11-year-old will attempt to win the Dahlbury Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle for a fourth time on January 28 as he completes his on-track Festival preparations.

And his trainer is proud to see him still competing at the highest level despite his advancing years.

“It just goes to show that you should never pigeonhole Paisley and I couldn’t have been happier with him on a track (Kempton) that probably doesn’t play to his strengths,” said Lavelle.

“I was very proud that he’s still winning at that level as a 10-year-old.

“Touch wood, he’s in great order – good, fresh and well and he’ll go to the Cleeve Hurdle first and the Stayers’ Hurdle is his big aim as ever. He’ll do one more piece of work on the grass next week (ahead of the Cleeve) but he’s in good form.”

Paisley Park has finished placed behind Gavin Cromwell’s hat-trick seeking Flooring Porter in the past two years, but Lavelle has hopes of a reversal this time.

Jockey Aidan Coleman (right) in the parade ring after winning the Long Walk Hurdle on Paisley Park at Kempton on Boxing Day
Jockey Aidan Coleman (right) in the parade ring after winning the Long Walk Hurdle on Paisley Park at Kempton on Boxing Day (John Walton/PA)

On turning the tables with the defending champion, she continued: “I certainly hope so – I do think so far this year that he has been performing better than last year and if he can keep that up, I’d like to think we’ll be finishing closer or hopefully in front of him.”

The Paddy Power market is dominated by Irish-trained entries with Flooring Porter heading the betting at 5-1 and closely followed by Joseph O’Brien’s Christmas Hurdle scorer Home By The Lee and Willie Mullins’ Klassical Dream.

The latter is one of eight for the Closutton handler with the possible Mullins runners including the Rich Ricci-owned pair of Chacun Pour Soi and Monkfish and last year’s Ballymore winner Sir Gerhard.

Charles Byrnes won the race with Solwhit in 2013 and could be represented by Blazing Khal, while the shortest-priced British-trained entry is Nicky Henderson’s Marie’s Rock, despite last year’s Mares’ Hurdle champion most likely to defend her title over shorter on the Tuesday of the Festival.

However, one whose name was missing from the list of entries is Seven Barrows stablemate Champ, who will bypass Prestbury Park in favour of a trip to Merseyside.

“Champ is on a little break so he won’t be running at Cheltenham,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.

“He will be freshened up for Aintree, that is the plan with him.”

Stayers Hurdle Trends

Billed as the feature race on the third day (Thursday) of the Cheltenham Festival, the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle (formerly the World Hurdle) is run over a distance of 3m with 12 hurdles to jump.

The present format of the contest was first run in 1972, and after being known as the Ladbrokes World Hurdle from 2005 the race returned to it’s original name - the Stayers’ Hurdle – in 2017, with Paddy Power now the race sponsors.

In recent years, the contest has been dominated by previous winners of the race with the French-trained, Baracouda, landing the prize twice, the gutsy Inglis Drever winning three times, while the Paul Nicholls-trained Big Buck’s took the honours four times on the bounce between 2009-2012.

In 2018 we saw the Willie Mullins yard win the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle for the second year in a row – this time with the 7 year-old Penhill, while it was Paisley Park that won the race in 2019 and gave trainer Emma Lavelle her first winner in the race – but could only manage seventh in the race in 2020 and third in 2021 - he should be back for more this year though, having returned to form by winning the 2022 Cleeve Hurdle here at Cheltenham in January.

12 months ago, in 2022, we saw the Gavin Cromwell-trained Flooring Porter making all to win the race for jockey Danny Mullins by 3 ¼ lengths.

Here at GEEGEEZ we look back at recent Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle winners and gives you the key stats to take into the 2022 renewal – this year run on 18th March 2020.


Recent Stayers’ Hurdle Winners

2021 - FLOORING PORTER (12/1)
2020 – LISNAGAR OSCAR (50/1)
2019 – PAISLEY PARK (11/8 fav)
2018 – PENHILL (12/1)
2017 – NICHOLS CANYON (10/1)
2015 – COLE HARDEN (14/1)
2014 – MORE OF THAT (15/2)
2013 – SOLWHIT (17/2)
2012 – BIG BUCK’S (5/6 fav)
2011 - BIG BUCK’S (10/11 fav)
2010 - BIG BUCK’S (5/6 fav)
2009 - BIG BUCK’S (6/1)
2008 – INGLIS DREVER (11/8 fav)
2007 – INGLIS DREVER (5/1)
2006 – MY WAY de SOLZEN (8/1)
2005 – INGLIS DREVER (5/1)
2004 – IRIS’S GIFT (9/2)
2003 – BARACOUDA (9/4 fav)

Stayers’ Hurdle Betting Trends

16/19 – Had raced within the last 10 weeks
16/19 – Finished 1st or 2nd last time out
16/19 – Had won over at least 3m (hurdles) before
16/19 – Aged 8 or younger
14/19 – Returned 8/1 or shorter in the betting
14/19 – Winning distance – 3 1/2 lengths or less
14/19 – Placed favourites
13/19 – Came from the top 3 in the betting
13/19 – Had raced that calendar year
12/19 – Went onto run at the Aintree Grand National Meeting later that season
12/19 – Had won over hurdles at Cheltenham before
12/19 – Won their latest race
11/19 – Contested either the Cleeve Hurdle (8) or the Long Walk Hurdle (3) last time out
10/19 – Rated 163 or higher
7/19 – French-bred
7/19 – Went onto win at Aintree later that season
7/19 – Winning favourite
4/19 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
4/19 – Irish-trained winners
The average winning SP in the last 19 runnings is 8/1

Stayers’ Hurdle Stats:

Every winner since 1972 has been aged 6 or older
Since 1972 there have been 7 previous winners of the race
Horses that ran at the previous season’s Cheltenham Festival are 22 from 27
Horses that were placed fourth or better last time out have won 33 of the last 34 renewals
The top five in the betting have finished 1st, 2nd and 3rd in 7 of the last 18 renewals
Just 4 Irish-trained winners since 1996 – Solwhit (2013), Nichols Canyon (2017), Penhill (2018), Flooring Porter (2021)
All of the last 34 winners were aged 9 or younger

Stayers Hurdle – UK v Irish

18/24 – British-trained winners
2/24 – French-trained winners
4/24 – Irish-trained winners
Trainer Paul Nicholls (UK) has trained 4 winners of the race
Willie Mullins (Ire) has trained just 2 winners of the race (2017, Nichols Canyon, 2018 Penhill)
Nicky Henderson (UK) has trained just 1 winner of the race (2000, Bacchanal)
Paul Nicholls (UK) has trained 4 of the last 12 winners
Jonjo O’Neill (UK has trained 2 of the last 17 winners









Monday Musings: Playing the Long (Distance) Game

Sometimes the story exceeds its components: the myth overcomes reality, writes Tony Stafford. For instance, how many Stayers Hurdles has the now ten-year-old Paisley Park won in his 20-race, ten-win hurdles career? Two, no three one’s mind wants to say. We’ve seen Andrew Gemmell, his owner, celebrate so many times. Sorry memory – and that went for me too just now until I checked – it’s just the one.

Yes, that day almost three years ago now when the Emma Lavelle-trained gelding sailed up the Cheltenham hill under Aidan Coleman clear of Sam Spinner and the rest to create a magical afternoon also charmed by victory on Frodon under Bryony Frost.

The owner, blind from birth but able to build quite a stable of horses having spent a successful career working in local government, has moved on notably also as a leading shareholder among the Barbary Lions in the champion Alan King-trained Flat-race stayer Trueshan. Andrew has enjoyed many wonderful days but Saturday’s third victory for Paisley Park in the Grade 1 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham was very different as he was unable to be present.

At the time Paisley Park came up the hill to tumultuous cheers from the packed stands, his owner was in London Bridge Hospital recovering from surgery on a heart valve. He was intent on getting the surgery out of the way so he can be at the Festival.

As to the Stayers Hurdle, in 2020, sent off at 4-6 Paisley Park was only seventh behind Lisnagar Oscar – a well beaten third on Saturday in receipt of 6lb. Last year, again favourite, albeit at a more conservative 9-4, he was third, closest at the line behind the all-the-way, indeed runaway, Irish six-year-old Flooring Porter.

Coming into Saturday, the auguries for Paisley Park were far from bright. He now has a 12lb lower handicap mark – a relatively modest 157 – than after that Stayers Hurdle triumph in 2019. He had been third three times in succession in lead-up races at Wetherby, Newbury and Ascot, latterly in the Long Walk Hurdle, a Grade 1 race he had previously won, around five lengths behind Champ.

Re-opposing on identical terms, the last expectation was that he would revive old memories and many people were talking up the re-directed chaser Champ as the likeliest Stayers Hurdle winner, the Irish excepted and in some cases included. Indeed, such had been the impression created at Ascot by the J P McManus horse that the Irish were temporarily forgotten especially when Klassical Dream’s much-anticipated midweek trial for the Festival ended in a weak-finishing fourth.

Now, in the manner of racing and the best tradition of wishful thinking – I’m up there wishing with them all, too – we’re projecting a nice win in a five-runner race onto success in a 15-runner championship event.

“Look at all that ground he lost when turning around as the other quartet set off”, they say. Well, try that tactic on the big day and see where it gets you if Flooring Porter goes hell for leather again. It’s hoping to turn a potential deal-breaker into a positive. Saturday’s field was thin with only two of the five-horse field both in-form (Lisnagar Oscar certainly was not) and proven at the trip.

Paisley Park remains a wonderful stayer and his victory allowed all the outpourings of emotion that are commonly ceded to jump racing’s longest-serving heroes. We should take it as one more very welcome reminder of his talent rather that expect him to match or improve on it in six weeks’ time.  For his owner, just imagine how agonising it must be having to hear rather than see it happening. A remarkable man!

Earlier on the same Cheltenham card, we saw a very likely Festival winner in the shape of the Gordon Elliott-trained Pied Piper. The way this four-year-old by New Approach was followed vainly up the hill by his lesser rivals suggests his breeder, HM The Queen, was far-sighted in naming him.

Trained by the Gosdens, an easy win off 89 at Leicester in heavy ground on his last run before Tatts Horses In Training sale brought a final mark of 96 and a sale price of 225,000gns. I wonder whether Charlie Longsdon ever suggested to the powers that be that the owner-breeder might enjoy jumping him herself. Money talks, it seems, even in places maybe you’d think it would not!

If he shows up for the Triumph on the Friday of the Festival he will obviously take all the beating, such was the style of the win. Gordon Elliott also has unbeaten-in-three Fil Dor and the usual maybe we’ll go for the Supreme chat entered the equation briefly. You win the Supreme with a four-year-old, so what? Win the Triumph and if two have to go for it, needs must.

It’s not the same thing exactly, but I remember a few years back when Refinement was proving herself a top-class mare in long-distance hurdles, I asked Michael Tabor whether he would breed from her.

His answer: “How bloody old would I need to be before she has a runner?”. A home-bred foaled in 1999, Refinement won 13 of 33 races and more than £360k. Already the mother of four winners -  West Coast Time (2012), Meticulous (2014) and Risk Factor (2015) - all won in the blue and orange silks, but her most exciting prospect is a horse foaled when she was 18 years old.

That horse, Walking On Air, is trained by Nicky Henderson and is the first of the quartet to be sired by Walk In The Park, one of the star jumping stallions among the Coolmore NH team. If ever there was continuity of ownership and production, Walking On Air is it.

Walk In The Park, trained by John Hammond, was a home-bred of Tabor’s Irish and French Derby winner Montjeu, also trained by Hammond, an Englishman based in France who retired in the last couple of years.

Walk In The Park was runner-up in Motivator’s 2005 Derby as a big outsider and started his stud career in France standing at only €1,500. He immediately showed his propensity to produce winners and he was hastily finessed into the Coolmore nursery. Nobody – apart from anyone asking to send their mare – has ever been publicly aware of his fee. Betcha it’s a fair few Euros now!

But what a pedigree, and the way the Nicky Henderson-trained Walking On Air bolted up at Newbury on hurdles debut recently – in a similar manner to Pied Piper on Saturday – may finally make MT fully satisfied that his long-term and slightly unwilling project was worthwhile.

This column often descends into ageist talk and this week’s prime candidate for inclusion is one who made the century before his death last week. That worthy was Dick Duchossois, owner of Arlington Park racecourse in Chicago and founder of its Arlington Million.

I had one enjoyable evening at his posh estate outside the centre of Chicago when there to watch the race in the 1990’s. Arriving with festivities in full swing, I looked around for people I knew and recognised Michael Dickinson, by this time training in the US. Michael was holding forth to a table of admiring fans. As I approached, he called the table to order and said: “Meet Tony Stafford, a journalist from England. He taught me everything I know about handicapping!” As well as talking to me every night when he was still a jockey and returning back home after his sauna sessions, he was on to Colin Russell and Walter Glynn all the time, too. I never claimed a monopoly on the information, it was just me lucky enough to be there.

Michael and Joan Wakefield were at Newcastle racecourse the other night, obviously checking up on the well-being of the Tapeta surface he invented. He was chatting to Jim Goldie and Joanna Mason outside the weighing room when my pal Wilf Storey and daughter Stella came out with the colours bag after Joanna rode his horse.

Jim asked Michael if he knew Wilf, adding he’s the oldest trainer around. Michael said he did but Wilf corrected Goldie saying Joanna’s grand-father (Mick Easterby) is the oldest and Dai Burchill (to retire after a winner later in the week) was also older than him. Wilf said Michael looks as young as ever. He will be 72 on Thursday if you can believe that!

Talking of trainers packing up, it’s a great shame that Mick Quinn has called it a day after his big owner Kenny Bruce ended their relationship. Mick seemed to suggest that Bruce, a partner with his brother in Purple Bricks, who are now calling themselves in their advertising the biggest estate agency in the UK, might return some time in the future. Presumably when he can better afford it!

Mick trained a few horses for Raymond Tooth including Stanhope, a home-bred sprinter who won races before being sold to Ireland where he continued to do well. When he decided to hand in his licence, he gifted his two horses to the Northern Racing College.

One of them and the last to win him a prize was Great Hall, for his second in a Huntingdon hurdle race as an 11-year-old in October last year. A son of Halling, Great Hall was named on the way back from Manton to London as Ray and I were driven back by Steve Gilbey after Ray bought him from Brian Meehan.

He was a smart middle-distance horse who ran in the St Leger and won eight flat races and one hurdle.  He will be a wonderful schoolmaster. Mick’s colleagues on Talk Sport will be happy to welcome him back as he has more availability for punditry and commentaries, and he also looks forward to resuming his entertaining after dinner speaking.

A very nice family man, Mick Quinn is one of the most down-to-earth and cheerful of people. If he feels he didn’t get full reward for the 25 years of effort, generally with modest horses, often like with Great Hall in their declining days, he has helped make a day at the races very enjoyable for anyone he ever encountered.

- TS

Monday Musings: of Hollie, Paisley and Sleepy

So Hollie Doyle finished third in the new-look BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2020 showing that technology can mix with the old-style modesty and courtesy which Ms Doyle, Jordan Henderson and Stuart Broad showed by bothering to turn up on a Sunday night in Manchester, writes Tony Stafford.

Henderson, the genuinely-likeable captain of Liverpool FC, team of the year and whose manager Jurgen Klopp was coach of the year, finished second and favourite Lewis Hamilton won for the second time having been successful six years ago. Standing next to a Christmas tree – “I didn’t decorate it!” he said, Hamilton was presumably at home in Monte Carlo rather than Stevenage. Ronnie O’Sullivan and Tyson Fury didn’t show up either.

Seven world driving championships in overwhelmingly the best car proved too high a hill to climb even for Liverpool’s first winning captain in the life of the Premier League and an unassuming 24-year-old who rode her first Group winners in her eighth year as a jockey only this summer.

It had been quantity rather than quality until her recruitment by Tony Nerses to ride for his boss Imad Al Sagar and it was her win on Sagar’s Extra Elusive in the Group 3 Winter Hill Stakes, the fourth of a record five winners on a single day for her as recently as August 29 at Windsor that propelled her into the public perception.

It was a nice, albeit forlorn, idea to think she could supplant the well-established front-runners for the SPOTY award. At least the belated campaign put a few quid in the bookmakers’ coffers and a nice boost for British Telecom, although I’m sure the BBC will take a chunk of the phone receipts to help pay their quartet of highly remunerated presenters.

What Hollie will need now to be competitive in this rarefied arena is a step up, a job like stable jockey to John Gosden – move over Frankie, your time is up, maybe? Then she can ride steering jobs in Group races around the big tracks and leave the travelling to the gaffs to stack up the numbers to her fiancé, Mr Marquand! Alternatively, in true “promising debut, should win next time” racing tradition, she could even win it, as long as she gets her first championship in the meantime.

While all the talk around racing circles concerned the possible win against the odds of Hollie and the implications of Tier 4 for those of us in the now most contagious part of the country, Ascot provided two wonderful examples of talented hurdlers coming back from adversity.

The new normal won’t make much difference to me, for although I did make it to Newmarket on Thursday morning and actually saw a couple of horses, since March I’ve pretty much stayed at home. Others around where we live are not so compliant.

Later on Thursday evening, police cars swarmed past our block as they sought out the actual venue where hundreds of people, reckoned to be mainly in the 20-30 age bracket, were having an illicit drinking party. Helicopters were right overhead for at least an hour. Wasn’t us, guv’nor!

The Paisley Park story and its connection to his owner Andrew Gemmill was one of the strongest themes of the 2018-9 jumps season. The Emma Lavelle-trained hurdler went unbeaten through a five-race campaign triumphing emphatically in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, all the time accompanied by pictures of his enthusiastic owner who, as is well documented, has been blind from birth.

As a result, when at the track he relies on race commentaries and insights from his friends as to how his horses are going. It must have been a dreadful shock at Cheltenham this March when, with a second consecutive championship and another unblemished season in the offing, he first realised something unusual was happening. Where normally he would hear, “Paisley Park is starting to improve”, instead his star made no impression between the last two flights and finished a very tired seventh.

Initially all the stable representative could tell the stewards, understandably like the owner and many thousands of his supporters around the country wanting an explanation of what did go wrong, was he had lost two shoes during the run; but, soon after, a heart issue was discovered.

While such a finding might be alarming, it would at least be enough to explain what happened and probably why. Emma Lavelle went back to the beginning with Paisley Park after the shock had been accepted and, to her and her staff’s credit, she had him ready for the Grade 2 Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, the race in which he began his previous campaign.

Whereas 2019 brought a five-length win over Thistlecrack, new contenders lined up, understandably sensing a chink in the previously impenetrable armour, making it double the field size of the previous renewal. As well as Lisnagar Oscar, the horse that now it seems may have “borrowed” rather than taken his crown, there were a number of regulars on the staying circuit but, more tellingly, two of the new generation at the top level in McFabulous, who started favourite and Thyme Hill.

McFabulous proved unable to beat Paisley Park, but the latter in turn was unable to match the speed between the last two jumps by Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill. One of the best novices of his generation he was unluckily beaten out of the frame in the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle a year after his close third to Envoi Allen (still unbeaten and frankly untroubled) in the Festival Bumper of 2019.

Thyme Hill was getting 3lb from the old champion at Newbury and made the most of it, winning by a length and a half but Paisley Park was staying on very well at the finish. When they renewed rivalry on Saturday in the Long Walk Hurdle, a race Paisley Park won two years ago, this Grade 1 was a level-weight affair. Understandably, Thyme Hill, better off, and very much the progressive animal, was favourite to maintain his edge.

If Andrew had been nervous at any stage in the 2020 Stayers’ Hurdle, I’d hate to have been the one to tell him, apart from commentator Simon Holt, what his chances were. Until they were well into the straight Holt didn’t have the best of news to report.

After suffering some interference on the bend, he was in an unpromising sixth place coming to two out as Aidan Coleman guided him to the wide outside. By now Thyme Hill was going up to challenge Younevercall and Roksana. Holt said: Paisley Park is under pressure, who is responding, in sixth. At the last he said, “Only three lengths back is Paisley Park, still staying”, and then after the last, “Paisley Park is storming home and he’s got him. He’s pulled it out of the fire!” Thirty or more seconds of agony turned to ecstasy for the owner.

And that’s exactly what it was, a champion showing all his best abilities when everything seemed to be against him, not least his first experience of truly heavy going. After this the regaining of his Cheltenham Festival title must be a strong possibility.

The second back from – if not the dead, then certainly from adversity – was provided by Not So Sleepy, who also made a return win on the track; but, whereas Paisley Park’s first Long Walk was two years ago, Not So Sleepy had been the wide-margin winner of the concluding Betfair Exchange Trophy only last December.

Previously, Not So Sleepy had finished a creditable fourth in the Cesarewitch behind the Willie Mullins-trained Stratum and then won off what at the time looked a gift jumping mark of 122 at the November meeting on the Royal course. A 5lb rise never appeared enough to stop him on his return for the Betfair Handicap Hurdle and he duly romped home by nine lengths as the 9-2 favourite.

Trainer Hughie Morrison, who has managed the one-time Dee Stakes (more than once a precursor to Derby success) winner through seven full campaigns and 49 races, aimed higher after that. The Betfair Hurdle itself at Newbury in February was the plan despite a further, this-time restrictive, hike of 17lb.

Several false starts meant a farcical melee on the outside where Tom O’Brien lined him up in that handicap and, thereafter, he was never in contention. Morrison then took him to the Champion Hurdle and again false starts and interference at the gate precluded against his showing his merits.

So to post-lockdown and a Flat return at Pontefract in late September where he was a ridiculously-easy winner of a two-mile handicap off 94. The 4lb rise which followed in this year’s Cesarewitch could not prevent a repeat fourth place, this time to another Mullins ‘job’, Great White Shark, a six-year-old mare lined up for the purpose and a ridiculously-easy winner under Jason Watson.

Graham Lee set off at the front of the 34-strong line-up and Not So Sleepy did nothing to suggest his powers had declined. Less positive were my feelings after his abortive challenge for the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle last month when he jinked and jettisoned Paddy Brennan at the first flight of the race won so impressively by Epatante.

Lastly to Ascot at the weekend, off 2lb lower than in the “real” Betfair in February and, inexplicably with hindsight, Not So Sleepy was allowed to start at 20-1. I, like many others, was fooled by the trio of hurdles mishaps and temporarily forgetful of his Ascot hurdles and solid Flat form. Fortunately, some less short-sighted members and a few pals reading the From The Stables newsletter I edit every day, kept the faith and profited accordingly.

‘Twas ever thus, don’t do as I do, do as I say, or vice versa!

- TS