There were audible groans from the crowd when the five runners set off to contest the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham last weekend. The reason for the crowd’s dismay was that Paisley Park reared up when the starter raised his flag, nearly throwing jockey Aidan Coleman from the saddle, then giving the other runners a near 20 length headstart. Ruby Walsh, who was on television commentary for ITV racing, effectively said that Coleman should pull him up there and then. This was a 3-mile hurdle, and Walsh opined that playing catch up would see Paisley Park run out of steam early.
Around six minutes later, Paisley Park crossed the finish line in 1st place, holding off the firm favourite Champ and getting his first win since December 2020. It was a remarkable performance to come from so far back and eventually beat out a well-fancied rival in such style. Coleman looked fairly stunned in the post-race interview, but it was one of those special performances that elite racing throws up from time to time.
Paisley Park took the Stayers’ crown three years ago
Of course, Paisley Park is no slouch. He was once considered the finest long-distance hurdler in the business, but he was thought to be way past his prime. He won the Grade 1 Stayers’ Hurdle – the elite event for hurdlers over 3m in the UK – back in 2019 when he was in his pomp. But he never really scaled the heights again after going off as the red-hot favourite in the same event in 2020. Last year, he ran a decent race to finish 3rd. A month later, he pulled up at Aintree, and there was something of a consensus that Paisley Park’s time at the very top was over.
But now, racing fans aren’t so sure. Paisley Park hasn’t been made favourite for the 2022 Stayers’ Hurdle, but he is very much in the mix of things. The Stayers’ is often one of the hardest races for tipsters’ predictions on Day 3 of Cheltenham, but this year seems to be extra tough for the feature race on St Patrick’s Day. Every runner has a question mark hanging over them, but there are several who can certainly pull it out of the bag on the day. On the evidence of the Cleeve Hurdle, Paisley Park certainly belongs in the latter group.
A tough ask for a 10yo horse
The problem for Paisley Park is precedence. Not since 1986 when Crimson Embers triumphed has a horse over the age of 10 won the 3m Stayers’ Hurdle (Crimson Embers was actually 11); not even the great Big Buck’s, a four-time winner, managed to win it at that age. But as we hinted above, the Stayers’ is very open this year, and Paisley Park showed that he might still be a force to be reckoned with at Cheltenham.
For punters, however, there is a bit of a conundrum. The current ante-post favourite is Flooring Porter, who was something a surprise winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle last year. His form since then reads PU, F, 2, so it’s not as if he is jumping out at punters as a must-back selection. Others like Champ and Klassical Dream (who beat Flooring Porter last month) have both disappointed in more recent outings. The race is primed for any one of a dozen runners to stake a claim.
So, for Paisley Park, the stage is set. The stats tell us that he should not win the Stayers’ as a 10yo, and most people had written him off over the last few months. But due to the struggles of his rivals and the demonstration that he still has some deep reserves of stamina within, he’ll make a popular selection on St Patrick’s Day to make a bit of history.