Andrew Gemmell likes his sport. Cricket was his first love but he has enjoyed racing since the 1960s, brought up on commentaries of the Peters, Bromley and O’Sullivan, and liking a bet.
Words, rather than pictures, used to be the chief means of knowing where your money was going, with only terrestrial television pictures available. Commentaries in betting shops were what a generation of punters was brought up on.
That is no longer the case for the vast majority but, for Gemmell, words are still king. He has been blind since birth. Talking to him, you wouldn’t have the foggiest. He was looking forward to going to his beloved West Ham later that day and, like any owner with a Cheltenham Festival hope at this time of year, spoke of nerves and excitement as jump racing’s biggest days counted down.
Indeed, Gemmell literally counts them down.
“When Paisley Park won the Long Walk Hurdle, I said to Emma [Lavelle] there were 80-odd days to go,” he relays. “Today there are 38. I’m very nervous thinking about it, very tense. I just hope he gets there and comes back safe and sound.”
Paisley Park is ante-post favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival, off the back of his Long Walk victory and subsequent triumph in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Gemmell has been going to Cheltenham since the early 1970s, but it was not until the late 1990s that his involvement in racehorse ownership began.
That was through Million in Mind, with Anthony Bromley a key player, and Gemmell continues to this day to be involved in syndicates, as well as having horses in his own right. Highclere and OTI Racing in Australia are two of his syndicates, and Gemmell last year attended his
tenth Melbourne Cup, the first coming in 1995. He enjoys cricket and tennis down under as well, and has been to a couple of Dubai World Cups, the Kentucky Derby and in 1990 he met Scobie Breasley at the Garrison Savannah in Barbados.
“I first met Emma in about 2006- 07 as Favourites Racing had been suggested to me as a good one to join – she was one of their trainers,” explains Gemmell. “It was through her brother Alex, a journalist, who I met in Australia.
“In 2007, I bought a horse on my own for the first time, Seymar Lad, who was an ex-Peter Beaumont, and he won four times for me. I’ve had about seven now on my own, and have got three at the moment.
“There’s Dagueneau with Ed Dunlop, Angel Islington with Andrew Balding – she’s had an injury but will hopefully be back on the turf – and of course Paisley Park with Emma. He’s been a dream horse.
“I live in north London but enjoy going behind the scenes at Emma’s and being on the gallops and hearing the horses thunder past, and I’m an owner with Alan King and so can combine a visit to both trainers as they’re not far apart.”
Gemmell adds: “Racecourse wise, I’d say York is my favourite – I particularly love the Ebor meeting – and I like Ascot, Sandown, which is very accessible from London, and the July Course at Newmarket, and Plumpton of the smaller tracks.
“Ryan Moore and Kerrin McEvoy are among my favourite jockeys on the Flat. Over jumps, Aidan Coleman is a very nice person and he gives really good feedback, and Adam Wedge and Noel Fehily are among others I admire.”
Unsurprisingly, it is Paisley Park who has been the backbone of his owner’s magical moments in racing to date, though he has certainly not been the only source.
He says: “Paisley Park has provided three magical days so far this season, at Ascot, Cheltenham and Haydock, when winning the valuable stayers’ handicap hurdle on Betfair Chase day.
“The Long Walk was a first Grade 1 winner for Emma, Aidan and myself, so that was particularly special.
“I also loved being the representative of the syndicate when Trip To Paris was runner-up in the Caulfield Cup in 2015. I’d bought into him after he’d won the Gold Cup that summer, and while the other La Grange Partnership members came to see him run in the Melbourne Cup, I was on my own with him at Caulfield the month before. I was on TV quite a lot!
“I have shares in horses in Australia and the prize-money there is much better than here – that’s certainly one frustration as an owner; the prize-money for some races, such as bumpers, is derisory.
“There have been plenty of good days though, and another was when Discorama was second in the Martin Pipe at the Festival last year. I own him with a very good friend [Tom Friel], and hopefully he’ll be running at the Festival again this year in a novice chase.”
Gemmell is retired, having worked in local government for Westminster Council, so able to indulge in his varied sporting passions – he is an MCC member, among other pursuits – albeit they can sometimes conflict.
“I had tickets for the Australian Open tennis final but when Paisley Park became an intended runner on trials day at Cheltenham, I gave my tickets to a mate’s son for his birthday,” he says.
“I was lucky to come into some inheritance and I have enjoyed being an owner very much. I’m off to West Ham v Liverpool tonight, and as a season-ticket holder there will be other games coming up of course, but there’s nothing else major in my diary for the next month or so. My mind is focused on Cheltenham.”
Gemmell is far from alone in that, but in other ways is a rare breed, one for whom the sensations of the Cheltenham Festival are heightened beyond even those experienced by the overwhelming majority of his fellow owners. The very best of luck.