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Noble Yeats denies Paisley Park in Cleeve Hurdle thriller

Grand National winner Noble Yeats denied Paisley Park a fourth victory in the McCoy Contractors Cleeve Hurdle in a rousing finish at Cheltenham.

Trainer Emmet Mullins has proven time and again he is prepared to think outside the box and the 2022 Aintree hero was having just his third run over hurdles in this contest.

With regular jockey Sean Bowen currently on the sidelines, Harry Cobden stepped in for the ride and he looked to be going nowhere with half a mile to go as Dashel Drasher, Champ and Botox Has tried to run the finish out of the others.

The complexion of the race changed at the last though, as Noble Yeats (3-1), Paisley Park and Strong Leader, who was nearly detached at one point, came back into contention.

Noble Yeats found a few lengths after the last but Paisley Park was staying on relentlessly having been outpaced turning in.

However, despite the popular veteran’s best efforts, the line just came too soon and he went down by a head.

“It was a brilliant race with two, tough, genuine horses running right to the line – I think other people may have enjoyed it more than I did,” said Mullins.

“I’d imagine we’ll be back here in March and we had to come here and do that to lay down our claim. He will be in with a shout and all roads will lead back to the National again after that.

“Since we started back this year, this has kind of been the route (we were thinking). I said to Robert (Waley-Cohen, owner) before we ran this year, we would go for the Stayers’ first (before the National) and skip the Gold Cup. I think people were surprised when they saw he didn’t have an entry for the Gold Cup but the Stayers’ Hurdle has been the plan all season.

“He stays well and the New course here lends itself to that kind of running and galloping, it’s a thorough test on that track and that suits him.”

Noble Yeats had not got his head in front since winning the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree in December 2022 and Mullins was pleased to get a win on the board, feeling his charge’s limitations had been exposed at the top level over fences last term.

He added: “It’s great to see him get his head back in-front again and they were serious tests we asked him in the Gold Cup, Grand National and in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris, he ran a great race there and picked up some more prize-money and he didn’t come home without a cheque all year. It’s great to give him some confidence.

“We’ve had our crack at the Gold Cup and got put in our place and we’re probably 10lb off the top in that bracket, so the Stayers’ is the next logical place to look and, fingers crossed, we’re in with a chance.

“There are no rules in this game and it is great to use all the great races.”

Paisley Park was registering his third narrow defeat of the campaign, having been beaten a head in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and a short head in the Long Walk at Ascot last month.

Emma Lavelle’s pride in her charge was evident and she was touched by the reception Paisley Park received on returning to the unsaddling enclosure.

“The crowd lift him, but just not enough, we need them to shout louder,” she said.

“It’s the most emotional thing and the noise of the people calling for him and shouting for him, we just need him to try harder. He’s 12 years old and has just been beaten a head in his fifth Cleeve Hurdle and how am I ever going to have a horse like that.

“I was fine, then I walked in there (the winner’s enclosure) and people started shouting how much they love Paisley and now I just want to start crying. He is so special and he just tries his heart out.

“Maybe he’s just saving himself for the big one (Stayers’ Hurdle), but it will be a tough gig and I felt today might have been his real day this year.

“To consistently be coming out this season running like that means he’s still got it.

“They didn’t go much of a gallop and they were all sort of on top of each other and then quickened and he’s got caught for toe and then all he’s done is stay on again. He just needs an even gallop.

“I think all he’s done is stay on and just been done for a bit of toe.”

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