The Cheltenham Festival has quite a vocational habit of stirring emotion like few other racing occasions and if Paisley Park can somehow win a second Stayers' Hurdle in 2023, it will spark quite an outpouring.
As the countdown for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we are taking a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.
Emma Lavelle's Paisley Park, now fully a veteran of the game, has his eyes fixed on regaining the crown he won in 2019 and his army of followers would relish seeing him do it.
|Where||Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire|
|When||3:30, Thursday 16th March 2023|
|How to watch||ITV Racing, Racing TV & bet365 Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||Home By The Lee 4/1, Klassical Dream 7/1, Flooring Porter 8/1, Marie's Rock 9/1, Teahupoo 9/1, Paisley Park 10/1, Blazing Khal 11/1|
Despite memorably defeating Champ in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham last January, season 2021/22 was one that brought more what-could-have-been moments than anything else for Paisley Park.
Either side of that win, he was third behind the same rival in Ascot's Long Walk in December and occupied the same berth as Flooring Porter won a second Stayers' Hurdle in the Cotswolds in March.
He went to Ireland for the Champion Stayers' Hurdle at Punchestown but played only a bit-part role as Klassical Dream beat off Ashdale Bob and Gentlemansgame.
Heading off for his summer recess, plenty were left to wonder if Paisley Park's days at the top were behind him.
Step forward seven months to Newbury and their Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle in late November and old foes Champ and Paisley Park served up a blockbuster duel, Nicky Henderson's charge edging it by a neck at the end of three-miles.
Was it just two old-timers scrapping over past endeavours, or did the fire still burn in these two warriors of the track?
The Long Walk had to be rerouted to Kempton on Boxing Day as Ascot's card was claimed by freezing conditions but that festive renewal did plenty to warm the hearts of any racing fan as Paisley Park found his winning touch once more.
As has been typical in his career, he got himself outpaced as the race began to get serious, but Aidan Coleman's partner rallied to the cause in a manner that defined him in his pomp and he powered past Goshen for a 4¼-length Grade 1 win, with Champ back in third.
It was truly a redemptive victory, the 11th of his career and a fourth at Grade 1 level – his first since landing the same prize at Ascot in 2020 when he picked the pocket of Thyme Hill in the final strides.
He won his first Long Walk in 2019, en route to scoring at Cheltenham the following spring and he's now 10/1 to repeat the dose on 16th March.
Popular performer retains plenty goodwill Paisley Park has always had a loyal following.
The tale of his owner Andrew Gemmell, who has been blind since birth but retains an immense passion for horse racing and the sounds of raceday, is one strand in the story.
Gemmell's enthusiasm for the sport can do nothing but draw favour with anyone that comes across him, but so, so, Paisley Park's rise to the top wasn't an easy one.
As a raw three-year-old he contracted colic, a case so severe it could have cost the horse his life, far less his racing career.
But he made a full recovery and has gone to achieve great things - the 2018, 2020 and 2022 Long Walk Hurdles, the 2019, 2020 and, unforgettably, the 2022 Cleeve Hurdles, and of course, that 2019 Stayers' Hurdle amongst his claims to fame.
Now, recently turned 11-years-old, he heads back to Cheltenham looking to do it all again. Not since Crimson Embers in 1986 has one of his experience pulled it off, but Paisley Park is no ordinary horse and there are signs to be encouraged.
The Joseph O'Brien-trained Home By The Lee has emerged as 4/1 Stayers' Hurdle favourite following his Christmas Hurdle win in Ireland.
He was seventh in the Cotswolds last spring in the same race and could be maturing nicely now at eight-years-old to better that effort. The remaining contenders all have queries of a sort.
Flooring Porter was confirmed by his trainer to be '50/50 to make Cheltenham' following news of a setback.
The shortest-price British contender is Marie's Rock, though Nicky Henderson's charge is much more likely to defend her Mares' Hurdle crown.
After that, the fields get thin, fast. The story of Paisley Park and Andrew Gemmell already has a movie-script feel about it and this year's Cheltenham Festival could provide the ultimate plot twist if he rises to the top one more time.