Townend to see specialist after suffering dislocated shoulder

Paul Townend is facing an indefinite spell on the sidelines after dislocating his shoulder in a fall at Listowel on Wednesday.

The reigning champion jockey – who returned to action in July having suffered a foot injury at Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting that saw him fitted with a special boot in riding at Punchestown – came to grief two out aboard the Jessica Harrington-trained Port Stanley.

His retained trainer Willie Mullins is hoping for a swift return to action, but Townend will seek specialist advice next week.

He said: “Paul has a dislocated shoulder. I don’t know how long it is going to take and Paul doesn’t know either. Sometimes you make a quick recovery, that’s what we’re hoping, other times it takes a bit longer.

“He is going to see a specialist early next week.”

Townend was booked to ride Dysart Diamond and Sapphire Lady for Mullins at Listowel on Friday and missed a smart winner in the first-named mare.

Sean Flanagan duly stepped in to take his first ride for the Closutton handler in the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle, with Dysart Diamond winning by a length and quarter.

Mullins added: “I asked David Casey who was the best available, he said Sean, so I took him and it was a nice spare.

“He took the outside route when things didn’t go well at the start and it seemed to suit her and she jumped beautifully for him.”

Townend misses Listowel after fall earlier in the week

Paul Townend remains on the sidelines after suffering a shoulder injury in a fall at Listowel earlier in the week.

The reigning champion jockey – who returned to action in July having suffered a foot injury at Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting that saw him fitted with a special boot in riding at Punchestown – came to grief two out aboard the Jessica Harrington-trained Port Stanley on Wednesday.

With Flat action taking place on day five of the Harvest Festival, Townend was not in action on Thursday and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s senior medical officer Jennifer Pugh reported he would not ride on Friday.

Giving an update on the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board Twitter feed, she said: “Paul suffered a shoulder injury at Listowel on Wednesday and is awaiting further assessment.”

Townend was booked to ride Dysart Diamond and Sapphire Lady for retained trainer Willie Mullins on Friday.

Easy Game for Mullins and Townend at Listowel

Easy Game took the measure of Ballyoisin to win the feature Kerry Group Chase and complete a treble for Paul Townend and Willie Mullins on day one of Listowel’s Harvest Festival.

The reigning champion jockey and trainer struck again as Grade Two-winning hurdler and chaser Easy Game went one better than his fine second behind stablemate Royal Rendezvous in the Galway Plate.

Just a select field of three went to post, and that was reduced to two with a circuit to run when The Storyteller – always off the pace being set – was pulled up.

Easy Game and even-money favourite Ballyoisin continued their tussle, with the latter mostly just in front until tackled and headed between the last two fences.

Townend then got the better jump at the last en route to victory by three and a half lengths at 6-4.

Mullins said: “It is Nick’s (Peacock, owner) first race meeting since Cheltenham 2020, and he is delighted to be back.

“The horse might be improving a bit, and we will look at the Grade Two chase in Gowran – although Royal Rendezvous goes there, and we might keep the two of them apart.

“We never thought he was a three-miler, but he ran a cracker in the Galway Plate. Maybe he deserves an entry in the Down Royal Champion Chase (over three miles) – it might be a little beyond him, but he has handled the ground up there. It can get very lively, so it is a possibility.”

French Made was a Grade Two winner as a juvenile hurdler back in 2019 – and on her second start after a break of more than two years, she returned to winning ways to kickstart the Mullins-Townend treble.

Townend had to get to work on the six-year-old quite a long way from home, but she made good ground to collar long-time leader and eventual runner-up Say Goodbye at the last to win as the 13-8 favourite in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Hurdle.

Paul Townend and Willie Mullins with French Made
Paul Townend and Willie Mullins with French Made (Thomas Weekes/PA)

Mullins said: “She needed the run in Galway (in a big handicap at the end of July) and was improving at home all the time.

“I think it was a very fast race and it fell into her lap a little bit. The ones in front were keen to get on with it, and Paul sat out and waited for the race to come back to him – which it did eventually.

“I’d have no trouble going out in trip with her, because she looked caught for toe over the first couple of hurdles.

“She will go back up in grade at some stage and we’ll try to win what we can over the winter for her owner Sean McManus, who couldn’t be here today.

“I think she’ll stay over hurdles this season, she is six now but I hadn’t planned on going chasing.”

But while Mullins was delighted with French Made, trainer Liam O’Brien was left aghast by the decision of the stewards to fine him €2,000 and suspend jockey Ambrose McCurtin for 14 days over the running and riding of third-placed No Memory, who was beaten five and three-quarter lengths, and who is prevented from running for 42 days.

Describing the verdict as “scandalous”, O’Brien said: “We were beaten by a Grade Two winner. She (No Memory) is rated 115, she should have been getting a stone and a half from her (French Made) and finishes third.

“The reason she finished third was because she was out the back and they went too quick and the race collapsed. She obviously hadn’t the pace of the winner who was placed in a Grade One and was a Grade Two winner and she finishes third.

“It was her best run ever and I’ll have to appeal.”

Davy Russell is back among the winners
Davy Russell is back among the winners (Niall Carson/PA)

Davy Russell recorded his second victory since returning this week from 11 months out with a neck injury, when 14-1 shot Coach Carter beat his better-fancied Gordon Elliott-trained stablemate Gevrey – who made a telling mistake at the last before finishing runner-up in an eventful Strings & Things Rated Novice Chase.

Russell did well to stay on board when Coach Carter clipped heels with leader Poseidon in front of the stands first time round.

Bell Ex One was a decisive three-length winner of the opening Kerry Group 3YO Hurdle, turning round the form of his jumps debut.

Ray Cody’s gelding was second to Realist at Down Royal last month – but with a pull in the weights, he had that rival back in second this time, stretching clear under 7lb claimer Jack Foley to win at 4-1.

Cody said: “His jumping was better today, and he was in front way too soon, but I told Jack to be good and positive on him.

“When he got to the front he was wicked green – but he has an engine, and I think this lad will go a good bit.

“It was a good performance today and when his jumping becomes slicker, there is plenty to come.”

Kilashee was a runaway winner in division one of the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Handicap Hurdle, taking in-form trainer John Ryan’s tally to 30 this season.

The 9-2 shot built up a huge lead mid-race under 7lb claimer Shane Fitzgerald – and although Outlier narrowed the gap to under three lengths at the line, the result was never in doubt.

Ryan, who recorded the first four-timer of his career at Sligo four days ago, said: “I thought Shane went too quick, so my heart was in my mouth, but I’m very sweet on her.

“She is a half-sister to Kilcarry Bridge, who I won over €300,000 with.

“This is a right filly – and a lot of credit has to go to (vet) Tom O’Brien, because she got a bad cut on a hind leg and her tendon sheaths had to be flushed.

“He saved her on two occasions and he did a brilliant job with her wind a few years ago. A lot of those fellows don’t get enough credit – because without him, I wouldn’t have her.”

Captain Kangaroo, who beat subsequent Grade One winner Kilcruit on his debut in a bumper in March last year, also struck for Townend and Mullins – at the ninth attempt over jumps, as the 6-5 favourite in the Dairygold Maiden Hurdle.

Royal Rendezvous delivers on Plate promise

Royal Rendezvous improved on last year’s second place to take top honours in the Tote Galway Plate on day three of the Ballybrit festival.

Beaten three-quarters of a length in 2020, jockey Paul Townend kept the faith – picking Royal Rendezvous from trainer Willie Mullins’ six contenders in the richly-endowed prize over an extended two miles and six furlongs.

Sent off the 5-1 favourite, Royal Rendezvous was prominent throughout with Townend opting to take it up from Samcro at an early stage and he had a clear lead jumping the last fence before the long run for home.

Stablemate Easy Game emerged from the pack to make a race of it, but Royal Rendezvous held on by a length, with Modus taking third and The Shunter back in fourth.

Townend and Mullins were winning the race for the second time following the success of Blazing Tempo 10 years ago.

Royal Rendezvous edged out Easy Game
Royal Rendezvous edged out Easy Game (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins said: “Coming home from here last year we said we’d make this the plan if things worked out.

“The horse seemed to come into tremendous form the last three weeks, I was really pleased with him. He just looked a picture the last three weeks at home and we were just counting down the days, hoping we might get a bit of luck. It all worked out.

“I thought he got away in the right position, and then I wondered was he going too free – but he was jumping fantastically.

“Paul might have been a little worried he was getting too free, and he just got racing again with a circuit to run. I was a little worried was he doing too much too soon.

“But his jumping kept him in the game and he had enough in reserve. He had 7lb more this year, but he’s improving – he’s a late developer, I think.

“At one stage I didn’t think he would stay this sort of trip, (but) the way he races now I think we could even go further with him.

“I’d imagine he’d want to go up in grade.”

Annie G jumps the last at Galway
Annie G jumps the last at Galway (Niall Carson/PA)

Annie G (7-2) ran out a convincing victor in the Listed Tote+ Placepot Pays More Novice Hurdle.

Trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Darragh O’Keeffe, Annie G was in control from some way out in the extended two-mile heat and while Surprise Package tried to launch a late challenge after the last, the winner had plenty in reserve to repel that rival by eight lengths.

De Bromhead said: “She was really good and is a lovely mare who is progressing all the time. Darragh was really good on her, I didn’t think he was going fast enough early on and next thing they were all struggling behind her – he was brilliant on her.

“She doesn’t have to go from the front, but it suits us in a novice hurdle. Today she didn’t jump so well and was a bit disappointing (jumping-wise), and Darragh said she was on her wrong lead all the time. We had a suspicion she was better left-handed than right-handed but we got away with it and there are plenty of nice left-handed tracks.

“She has a full novice hurdle season ahead of her and her brother (Westerner Point) was a good chaser. She is a really exciting mare and fair play to the lads, they have been very patient.”

Nodoubtaboutthat (right) won the opener
Nodoubtaboutthat (right) won the opener (Niall Carson/PA)

Nodoubtabouthat (12-1) was a poignant winner of the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Handicap Hurdle in the hands of 7lb claimer Joseph Kelly.

Trainer Shane Crawley explained: “The (Who What Why) syndicate (winning owners) aren’t here today as one of the members, Michael Griffin, buried his mother Mae this morning.

“They saw her work last week and said ‘let her run, it’ll be all for luck’ so it was a very special win and it’s an emotional day for all of them. Michael is from Dublin and it is a Dublin syndicate.”

He added: “She had great form this season and was unlucky at times. I was stuck for a rider and Garry Cribbin (jockeys’ agent) said this lad could ride and is great value for 7lb.

“She came out of her Cork run really well and it worked out. I’ve only ever had one runner at the Festival and that’s my first winner. We bought her for €5,000 and didn’t think we’d be coming here winning!”

Desir Du Large on his way to Galway glory
Desir Du Large on his way to Galway glory (Niall Carson/PA)

Desir Du Large raced awkwardly in the closing stages but still came out on top in the Tote+ At Galway Races Maiden Hurdle.

He had run well in a couple of Grade Two heats last season and made the most of a drop in class to open his account for trainer Joseph O’Brien and Shane Fitzgerald, who is another to claim 7lb.

O’Brien said: “He had goodish winter form and we thought if he could take that here he’d run very well. He won well, but got a bit lonely and Shane gave him a good ride and is good value for his 7lb claim.

“We’ll see what mark he gets and he’ll either go for a novice or handicap next. He’ll go chasing eventually and could even go now, but we’ll see what Michael and Eddie (O’Leary) want to do.”

Unstoppable Mullins happy to end season on a high

Willie Mullins was planning a moderate celebration on Saturday evening after a superb Punchestown Festival capped another championship-winning season.

Mullins was crowned the leading trainer for the 15th time, banking over €5million in prize money to finish well ahead of the currently-suspended Gordon Elliott in second and Henry de Bromhead in third.

The Closutton handler enjoyed an exceptional week in County Kildare, notching a record 19 victories across the five days with a slew of Grade Ones to boot.

While Mullins was thrilled to break his benchmark at the meeting, he lamented the lack of owners and crowds at the fixture due to current Covid-19 regulations.

Mullins said: “We’ve had a fantastic festival. It’s great to have the support of the owners that we have and without them none of us could keep going at Closutton.

“They are the whole part of the team really with the investment they put in every year.

“Hopefully we can get owners back and then after that crowds back to inject a lot of atmosphere that is missing at the moment.”

Mullins endured some disappointments at Cheltenham, with the likes of Chacun Pour Soi and Al Boum Photo falling short, but Punchestown firmly reversed those fortunes.

He said: “I was so disappointed with how a lot of them ran in Cheltenham and we changed a few things coming here.

“I said I’d throw the whole lot at it, which we did, and it seems to have paid off.”

Patrick Mullins is champion amateur again
Patrick Mullins is champion amateur again (Niall Carson/PA)

There may have been plenty of champagne moments for Mullins since Tuesday, but a low-key gathering would mark another fruitful campaign.

He added: “Unfortunately it’ll be the usual, around the kitchen table.

“We’ll have a glass of something and I’m looking forward to a few easy days after the season that was in it.”

Champions Jody and Paul Townend
Champions Jody and Paul Townend (Niall Carson/PA)

The Townend family had double reason to celebrate as not only was Mullins’ retained rider Paul Townend confirmed as champion jockey on Friday evening after seeing off the challenge of Rachael Blackmore, but his sister Jody also secured the title of champion lady amateur rider.

Jody Townend was presented with the Mary Hyde Perpetual Cup in a ceremony at Punchestown and they become the first brother and sister to win championship titles in the same season.

Mullins’ son Patrick was crowned leading amateur for the 13th time, with Simon Torrens taking the conditional riders’ title.

Simon Torrens is champion conditional
Simon Torrens is champion conditional (Niall Carson/PA)

JP McManus is the champion owner for the first time in seven years and for the 18th time in all, with the likes of Galway Plate winner Early Doors, Dublin Racing Festival winners Off You Go, Drop The Anchor and A Wave Of The Sea, Leinster National winner Scoir Mear and the Fairyhouse Easter Festival winners Janidil and Hearts Are Trumps helping him to victory.

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: “Many congratulations to all of our National Hunt champions.

“In far from ideal circumstances, this has been a National Hunt season to remember. The outstanding successes at both Cheltenham and Aintree will live long in the memory, however the season featured thrilling performances throughout, showcasing the depth of talent on hand.

“It is a necessary that our major festivals have all taken place behind closed doors, but hopefully as the vaccination programme accelerates, we can look forward to some light at the end of the tunnel.”

Paul Townend takes fourth champion jockey title

Paul Townend has finally seen off Rachael Blackmore’s challenge to become Ireland’s champion jump jockey for a fourth time.

Townend clinched the title when Gaillard Du Mesnil, his only ride at Punchestown on Friday, gave him his 100th winner of the campaign in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle.

He goes into the season finale with an unassailable lead of 100 victories against 92.

Townend said: “That’s brilliant and it’s lovely to get a hundred up for the third year in a row.

“That’s my fifth (winner) of the week. I can’t complain, the horses are running well and it’s brilliant for all the different owners getting their chance as well.”

Bob Olinger, who would have been odds-on to strike for Blackmore, was a late withdrawal from the two-and-a-half-mile Grade One.

Blackmore did land the feature Paddy Power Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle, as expected, but it was not enough to take the title race into the final day. She failed to add to her tally on her four other rides.

Blackmore reflected on a brilliant season that saw her crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival and win the Grand National on Minella Times for trainer Henry de Bromhead.

“We’ve had such an incredible year – Henry has, I have, being part of that team. This (Honeysuckle’s win) is just the icing on the cake for the year – it’s phenomenal. 

“At the same time it’s been a very sad year after (the death of amateur rider) Lorna Brooke. When that happens to someone in the weighing room, it’s very hard and you’d have to be thinking about those people today as well (Brooke’s family and friends). 

“I feel so lucky. It’s probably boring for people to be hearing that all again, but I am so lucky to be part of all this and getting on these horses.  

“This one in particular is just so incredibly special, and we’re all so lucky to be involved with her. 

“Every time somebody says well done to me on Aintree, I say ‘jeez, that did happen’. It still hasn’t sunk in. It was unbelievable. 

“I can’t wait for the break now though.”

Blackmore had started the week four winners adrift of Townend, but was unable to make any further inroads on the reigning champion.

Townend only returned to action at Punchestown on Tuesday following a foot injury, but he rode a winner on each of the first two days and enjoyed a double on Thursday as he reaffirmed his grip on the championship.

Gaillard Du Mesnil digs deep to secure Punchestown prize

Gaillard Du Mesnil landed a second Grade One of the season with victory in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

The five-year-old took advantage of the late withdrawal of Bob Olinger, who had beaten him in the Ballymore at Cheltenham, to add this to his top-level success at Leopardstown in February.

It was not entirely straight forward however, as he had to dig deep to see off Ashdale Bob by two and a quarter lengths.

Paul Townend celebrates winning the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle with Gaillard Du Mesnil,
Paul Townend celebrates winning the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle with Gaillard Du Mesnil (Brian Lawless/PA)

Jockey Paul Townend was winning his 100th race of the season and said: “This lad was keen enough throughout the race, with just the four runners it was messy enough. Thankfully he’s won and it’s brilliant for Mr and Mrs Donnelly (owners) as well.

“He was sloppy at the last down the back. For a four runner race there was a lot going on. All’s well that ends well.”

Mullins added: “That was a very good performance and I think he’s going to be a nice horse next year.

“There is a good possibility that he’ll jump fences next season and that might help him to settle as well. He’s too busy during a race, but once he learns to relax, he’ll give a lot more.”

Asterion Forlonge was also on the mark for Mullins
Asterion Forlonge was also on the mark for Mullins (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mullins was taking his tally at the meeting to 15 as top-weight Asterion Forlonge had earlier totally outclassed the opposition in the EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase.

Giving between 10lb and 21lb to his rivals was no problem for the Grade One regular. Things had not gone right for Asterion Forlonge (11-4 favourite) after he made a winning debut over fences on this course in November, but he has been taking on the best novice company.

However, the seven-year-old grey got back to winning ways in some style with a 14-length demolition of the opposition under Bryan Cooper. Walk Away was second with Port Stanley third, four and three-quarter lengths further adrift.

Mullins said: “The drop in class makes a big difference to the pace of a race and he was able to get it all together. Even with top-weight in a handicap, it’s a different pace than you would have in Graded races.

“Nicer ground helped as well. I think he can improve a lot next year and be able to tackle top graded racing.

“Any of our top-weights that have won that race have turned out to be very good horses (Kemboy won in 2018 and Real Steel in 2019) and I think this fella has the potential to be that as well.

“Bryan said he was travelling at all stages of the race.”

El Barra (12-1) made it 16 for Mullins in the SalesSense International Novice Hurdle and also completed a double for jockey Sean O’Keeffe after Rapid Response had earlier got up in the dying strides to mug Scarlet And Dove in the Hanlon Concrete Irish EBF Glencarraig Lady Francis Flood Mares Handicap Chase.

The Jessica Harrington-trained seven-year-old managed to collar Scarlet And Dove, who had looked the likely winner when going on after jumping the third-last fence.

However, a mistake at the penultimate obstacle did not help her cause and she could not put the race to bed with Rapid Response (9-1) capitalising late on to score by a neck.

Rapid Response was the first leg of a double for Sean O'Keeffe
Rapid Response was the first leg of a double for Sean O’Keeffe (Brian Lawless/PA)

Kate Harrington, assistant to her mother, said: “We always thought there was a big one in her and it’s lovely to see her go and do that.

“It’s quite fitting for the week that the Potts (owners) have a winner with them donating a statue of Sizing John.

“It was a race meeting that Alan and Ann always loved to come to each year. Magic Of Light won it off a mark of 128 back in 2018, and I think Rapid is going to be an exciting staying filly going forward.

“It was the plan all year to aim her at this and it was very exciting just getting up on the line. As a young horse, Ann had a very fond connection with her before she passed away.”

Rewritetherules clears an obstacle at Puchestown
Rewritetherules clears an obstacle at Puchestown (Brian Lawless/PA)

John Hanlon was delighted a plan came to fruition when Rewritetherules (evens favourite) took the Paddy Power Hunters Chase for the Bishopscourt Cup in the hands of amateur Tom Hamilton.

“The plan when they bought him was to win this Cup. The O’Rourke’s (Dermot and Diane) wanted to win this cup for years and they are only four minutes from the course. I’m delighted to get the job done for them,” he said.

“He’ll probably go on hurdling and chasing now and could come back for this race next year.”

Bob And Co (right) edged out Billaway
Bob And Co (right) edged out Billaway (Brian Lawless/PA)

Bob And Co and David Maxwell edged out Billaway and Patrick Mullins in a thrilling finish to the Irish Daily Star Champion Hunters Chase.

Billaway made a brave attempt to made all the running but was just denied as Bob And Co (3-1) ran on determinedly from the last to snatch the spoils by a nose. The pair pulled eight lengths clear of Staker Wallace in third.

It was a second victory at the meeting this week for UK’s champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls following Clan Des Obeaux in the Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday.

Maxwell said: “It’s amazing, absolutely unbelievable. The horse just wanted it badly, he was never going to lie down and was just always pulling out a bit more and a bit more. He deserved to get it.

“This is the heart of racing – here and Cheltenham. It’s an unbelievable sport that a 43-year-old businessman can come here and do that.”

Paul Townend extends title lead over Rachael Blackmore

Paul Townend is now eight winners clear of Rachael Blackmore in the race to be crowned Ireland’s champion National Hunt jockey.

Townend had just two rides on day three of the Punchestown Festival, but both Energumene and Gauloise came good for the defending champion.

Energumene (2-5 favourite) made short work of his three rivals in the Ryanair Novice Chase, while Gauloise (7-4 favourite) had to battle a bit harder but eventually prevailed by 10 lengths in the Close Brothers Mares Novice Hurdle.

Blackmore had six rides but second place aboard Raya Time in the Handicap Chase was her best effort of the day.

Townend only returned to action at Punchestown on Tuesday following a foot injury, but he rode a winner on each of the first two days.

Blackmore started the week just four winners behind but has drawn a blank so far. She has Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle and exciting novice Bob Olinger to look forward to among her mounts on Friday.

Energumene impresses with easy Ryanair triumph

Energumene provided Willie Mullins with yet another Grade One winner at the Punchestown Festival when making all the running in the Ryanair Novice Chase.

Having added to his tally in the top-level events when Klassical Dream defied a lengthy absence in the Stayers Hurdle, this success looked likely a long way from home.

Energumene was denied a clash with Shishkin in the Arkle at Cheltenham due to a small setback, but he made a swift recovery and he was sent off the 2-5 favourite to beat a field of just three rivals.

Paul Townend and Energumene after their cosy victory
Paul Townend and Energumene after their cosy victory (Brian Lawless/PA)

One of those was his stablemate, Janadil, a Grade One winner last time out, while Captain Guinness this time took a lead having tried to set the pace at Cheltenham.

He possibly had no say in that matter though, as Energumene set off at a rare lick under Paul Townend and jumping well, just eased further clear.

By the home straight Captain Guinness was running on empty and eventually unseated Rachael Blackmore, but Janadil had already claimed second by then.

Energumene came home 16 lengths clear and Paddy Power immediately cut him to 6-1 from 12s for next year’s Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Willie Mullins after Energumene's success
Willie Mullins after Energumene’s success (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mullins said: “He seems to be back to himself. He was very slick early on, met a few wrong down the back, but once he got his eye in again over the last four, he was brilliant.

“It was a great performance to finish up the season.

“It was a nice surprise to get him back because I thought when we had to scratch him from Cheltenham, we’d miss Punchestown.

“He just made a very quick recovery. We were hoping to get him to Fairyhouse but that didn’t work, so I said we’d be better off taking our time and coming here and that paid off.”

When asked if he would get further, Mullins added: “He’s won over two and a half miles and has won a point-to-point, the only reason I came back was because he was so slick jumping.

“I thought he’d be a two-and-a-half-mile horse, more like Janidil, but when he gets his jumping right, he’s more like a hurdler over fences.

“I’d imagine we’ll go the Champion Chase route first and we’ll see how that goes.

“He’s a nice one for (owner) Tony Bloom to have.”

Townend moves six clear of Blackmore in championship race

Paul Townend stretched his lead to six over Rachael Blackmore in the race to be crowned Ireland’s champion National Hunt jockey with victory on Galopin Des Champs at Punchestown on Wednesday.

Townend had just the two rides to Blackmore’s four, but it was enough to see the three-time champion take a step closer to retaining his title with the scores standing at 97-91

He had an armchair ride on Galopin Des Champs, who looked a class act as he powered home by 12 lengths in the Grade One Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle.

Galopin Des Champs was impressive for Paul Townend
Galopin Des Champs was impressive for Paul Townend (Brian Lawless/PA)

Townend had started the day five ahead of Blackmore thanks to Chacun Pour Soi’s Grade One success on Tuesday.

That was the reigning champion’s first day back having been on the sidelines since suffering a foot injury in a fall at Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival.

In his absence, Blackmore had closed the gap to four, but Townend’s determination to be fit for the final week of the season has paid off.

Another blank day for Blackmore is a blow to her hopes to become Ireland’s first female champion jockey, although she does have six rides on Thursday and Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle and exciting novice Bob Olinger to look forward to among her mounts on Friday.

Galopin Des Champs proves his class at Punchestown

Galopin Des Champs blew his rivals away with an impressive display to win the Grade One Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

The ex-French five-year-old was having just his fifth start since joining the formidable Willie Mullins team and looks an exciting prospect.

Galopin Des Champs was one of the three Cheltenham Festival winners in the nine-runner field, having taken the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle last month, and he had no trouble proving his worth at the top level.

Stattler, stablemate of the winner, made the running – but Galopin Des Champs was always travelling easily for Paul Townend and went on after jumping the second-last flight.

The 13-8 favourite stormed clear to score by 12 lengths. Gentlemansgame took second place by a length and a half from Stattler.

Townend said: “It was straightforward. He settled lovely, but you have to for a three-mile race like that.

“I was in front a hell of a lot earlier than I anticipated – I won’t say too soon because he’s won – though definitely a lot sooner than I thought I would be.”

Mullins said: “He’s very slick over his hurdles. I said to Paul ‘what did you think?’ and he said he could be a Stayers’ Hurdle candidate. I like to go chasing with them quickly. We’ll see.”

The Closutton handler completed a Grade One double when Kilcruit (11-8) reversed Cheltenham bumper form with stablemate Sir Gerhard.

The latter got the verdict by half a length there, but he was only third this time as Kilcruit turned the tables in emphatic fashion in the ITM – Supporting Irish Store Sales Champion INH Flat Race.

Lake Winnipesaukee soon built up an early lead, but he was caught well over half a mile out with Kilcruit enjoying a dream run on the rail to get into contention under Derek O’Connor.

Sir Gerhard ranged alongside but was soon brushed aside by Kilcruit (11-8), who went on to score by four and three-quarter lengths from O’toole. Sir Gerhard (5-6 favourite) was another length and three-quarters back in third.

Mullins said: “He looked pretty good there. He glided down to the start. He loved that ground and when you consider how well he handled really heavy ground at Navan in the middle of winter and then win like that – this horse could be anything.

“We’ve had the family for years and years and I think this could be the last one out of it. My mother (breeder) will be happy this evening, and it’s great for Mags and Michael Masterson (owners).”

He added of the Masterson-owned Appreciate It, who was brilliant in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham: “Appreciate It will be back for next season. He just had a small setback which we couldn’t get right for this week.”

Townend edges five clear of Blackmore thanks to Chacun victory

Paul Townend stretched his lead over Rachael Blackmore to five winners in the race to be crowned Ireland’s champion National Hunt jockey as he steered Chacun Pour Soi to success on his return to action at Punchestown.

The reigning champion had been on the sidelines since suffering a foot injury in a fall at Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival, but won his race to be fit for the final week of the season.

In his absence, Blackmore had closed the gap to four. But Townend strengthened his grip on the title again with a Grade One victory aboard the brilliant Chacun Pour Soi in the William Hill Champion Chase – trained by Willie Mullins and owned by Rich and Susannah Ricci.

“It’s a very important week and luckily we’re back 100 per cent on a horse,” said Townend, who has moved to 96 winners for the season to Blackmore’s 91.

“I just want to thank everyone. I’m not going to name names, because I’m going to forget someone, but a lot of people put in a lot of hard work to get me back.

“When you’ve horses like that (Chacun Pour Soi) to look forward to, it makes your recovery and the effort you put in a lot easier.

“I’m very grateful to Willie and the owners for putting me up on the first day of the Punchestown Festival.”

A blank day for Blackmore means she appears to have her work cut out to become Ireland’s first female champion jockey, although she does have the likes of Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle and exciting novice Bob Olinger to look forward to later in the week.

Chacun Pour Soi back to brilliant best

Chacun Pour Soi bounced back to his brilliant best to land the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown.

The nine-year-old was a red-hot favourite to provide trainer Willie Mullins with a first victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last month, following three runaway victories earlier in the season.

However, after hitting the front on the run to the final fence there, Paul Townend’s mount faltered up the hill and passed the post only third.

With Ryanair Chase-winning stablemate Allaho and Dan Skelton’s Champion Chase runner-up Nube Negra in opposition this time, Chacun Pour Soi faced a far from straightforward task in his bid to get back on the winning trail – but he could hardly have been more impressive.

Having disputed the early running with Allaho, Townend sent the Rich and Susannah Ricci-owned winner to a clear lead with over a circuit to race – and they were then never headed.

Having looked outpaced back over this shorter trip before the home turn, Allaho attempted to close the gap in the straight, but 6-5 favourite Chacun Pour Soi was ultimately far too strong for his stablemate and passed the post with five and a half lengths in hand.

Nube Negra was some 19 lengths further behind in third.

Mullins said: “I think they were just on song today, both himself (Chacun Pour Soi) and Paul.

“They gave an exhibition of jumping and racing. He just had horses out of their comfort zone from very early on.

Paul Townend celebrates on Chacun Pour Soi
Paul Townend celebrates on Chacun Pour Soi (Niall Carson/PA)

“Cheltenham was disappointing – I felt it wasn’t the Chacun Pour Soi that we know.

“I don’t know why he did what he did at Cheltenham, and maybe we just weren’t positive enough on him.

“Anyhow, he was disappointing, but it’s good to see that he’s back to himself.”

Townend, who returned to the saddle earlier in the day following a spell on the sidelines with injury, was hugely impressed.

He told Racing TV: “That was a proper performance – that was the real Chacun.

“We were all disappointed in Cheltenham. The horse didn’t fire there, but there was no hiding place today – and he jumped for fun.

“His jumping kept me in my comfort zone at all stages – he was electric. That just allowed me to fill him up as we went along, and he was a joy to ride and gave me a serious thrill.

“They’re animals and not machines. He didn’t fire at Cheltenham, but he fired today.”

Paul Townend back in action for Punchestown Festival

Paul Townend is set to return from injury with three rides on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival.

The reigning champion jockey has been sidelined since injuring his foot in a fall at Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting, but he has a trio of Grade One mounts to look forward to on Tuesday.

Townend will be aboard Chacun Pour Soi as he clashes with fellow Willie Mullins-trained runner Allaho in a fascinating renewal of the William Hill Champion Chase.

Mullins said: “Paul rode out yesterday and today. It’s great to have him back.”

Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Ryanair Chase on Allaho
Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Ryanair Chase on Allaho (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The pair along with a third Mullins runner, Cilaos Emery, are among seven declared for the Grade One over two miles and arrive on the back of contrasting performances at Cheltenham.

Townend’s title rival Rachael Blackmore partners Allaho, owned by Cheveley Park Stud, who won the Ryanair Chase over an extended two and a half miles. Chacun Pour Soi was only third in the Queen Mother Champion Chase when sent off the odds-on favourite.

Chacun Pour Soi, who had won two Grade Ones at Leopardstown previously, will have to turn the tables on Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, runner-up that day.

The Kim Bailey-trained First Flow, who finished sixth, renews rivalry while Castlegrace Paddy and Daly Tiger complete the field.

Monkfish, who faces Envoi Allen at Punchestown
Monkfish, who faces Envoi Allen at Punchestown (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Monkfish and Envoi Allen will square up for an intriguing showdown in a four-runner Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase.

Townend will be aboard the Mullins-trained Monkfish. The seven-year-old has won all his four starts over fences, the latest coming in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Envoi Allen lost his perfect record over the bigger obstacles there when falling in the Marsh Novices’ Chase. Henry de Bromhead’s charge, wearing the Cheveley Park colours, steps up in trip to an extended three miles for the first time.

Mullins is also responsible for the two other runners in the race, Franco de Port and Colreevy, winner of the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Townend’s first ride back is set to be on Blue Lord in the other Grade One race on the card, the eComm Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle.

Mullins has a strong hand, saddling both Blue Lord and Echoes In Rain, but he does not run impressive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Appreciate It.

The seven-year-old is entered in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles later in the week, but is not certain to take his chance there either.

Mullins said: “We’ll see. We’re going to play it by ear.”

Just five horses have been declared with Colonel Mustard, Dewcup and Uhtred completing the line-up.

Blackmore completes Kilbeggan treble to achieve new personal best

Rachael Blackmore recorded her best seasonal total of winners as she narrowed the gap on the sidelined Paul Townend with a treble at Kilbeggan on Friday evening.

Blackmore showed she is determined to fight all the way and cap a tremendous season that has seen her crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival and become the first female rider to win the Grand National, thanks to Minella Times.

She now trails the current champion by four (95-91) after scoring on The Cathal Don, An Taibhse and Cavalry Master for trainer Henry de Bromhead.

The Cathal Don (6-5 joint-favourite) saw off the challenge of market rival The Greek to take the New Spring Two Day N.H. Race Meeting Maiden Hurdle by half a length.

An Taibhse (evens favourite) landed a smooth success by four and a half lengths after leading two out in division one of the Maiden Hurdle.

Blackmore said of the latter: “She had two lovely runs on heavy ground and really enjoyed the better ground today.

“These colours (One For Luck Racing Syndicate) have had a great year and if this one is half as good as Put The Kettle On she’ll be going well.”

Rachael Blackmore completed a treble with Cavalry Master
Rachael Blackmore completed a treble with Cavalry Master (PA)

Cavalry Master (5-4 favourite) led after jumping the third-last fence and pulled away to run out an appropriate winner of the Congratulations Minella Times Beginners Chase, by nine and a half lengths from Blackhillsofdakota.

Blackmore said: “He won really well. He won a bumper around here.

“That was a step up in trip, but he seemed to handle it really well. I think he prefers the nicer ground.”