Cheltenham: The Storyteller can upstage Paisley Park in Stayers’ Hurdle

Andrew Gemmell's horse looking to join exclusive group by regaining feature on day three

Paisley Park will bid to regain his crown in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

Paisley Park will bid to regain his crown in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire

 

Paisley Park’s attempt to become the third horse to regain the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle crown is front and centre on day three of Cheltenham.

The imperious 2019 champion started odds-on to retain his title a year ago but never landed a blow.

An irregular heartbeat issue was subsequently discovered, something that had never raised its head before but which struck at just the wrong time.

For those enthralled by the endearing tale of the champion and his blind owner, Andrew Gemmell, it was a horrible anti-climax.

Happily all evidence since suggests it was a one-off.

In fact a doughty defeat of his young rival Thyme Again at Ascot in December suggested to jockey Aidan Coleman that Paisley Park might even be better than ever.

So with Thyme Again ruled out through injury the path appears open to the favourite emulating, in the modern era, both Crimson Embers, winner in both 1982 and 1986, as well as Inglis Drever (2005-07).

Lisnagar Oscar was the ultimate beneficiary of Paisley Park’s flop last year with a shock 50-1 success and is back to try and become the fifth horse in the last half century to retain the title.

It’s his lot, however, to come nowhere budging Paisley Park from the spotlight, although the same can be said for the 13 others lining up in Thursday’s feature.

They include half a dozen Irish-trained hopefuls hoping to become the lucky 13th winner from this country to land the Stayers’.

A trio from Cullentra and Denise Foster include Fury Road and Sire Du Berlais as well as The Storyteller whose unobtrusive style might ultimately upset the popular applecart.

This remarkably versatile horse has managed to assemble a stellar CV almost under the radar.

When The Storyteller won the Merribelle Plate over fences at the 2018 festival it was as part of a Gordon Elliott hat-trick on the day.

A month later he landed a Grade 1 at Punchestown, the bare fact of which barely produced a ripple given how all anyone remembers is Al Boum Photo crashing out through a wing at the final fence.

Fine effort

Seemingly as adept over hurdles as he is over fences The Storyteller secured another Grade 1 at Down Royal in October.

At Christmas he switched to flights and finished a nearest-at-finish runner up to Flooring Porter with Sire Du Berlais and Fury Road behind him.

It was a fine effort considering the stable wasn’t firing on all cylinders at the time yet most bookmakers have The Storyteller as the outsider of the Foster trio.

Finishing runner up again in the Irish Gold Cup last time is hardly classic Stayers’ prep but this is a rare all-rounder set to be pointed at the Grand National next month.

Perhaps most noteworthy of all, however, is how Keith Donoghue takes the reins. The jockey boasts a remarkable 75 per cent strike rate on The Storyteller - winning six of his eight races on the horse.

With ground conditions no issue, there is every chance The Storyteller’s inconspicuous style could see him creep onto the scene just when it counts most.

And if he goes on to a 12th career win in 36 starts it may even finally provoke an overdue visit to the limelight.

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