Blackmore could be back ‘in next couple of weeks’

Rachael Blackmore is planning on being back in the saddle within the next fortnight.

Blackmore, who won the Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle and the Grand National on Minella Times last season, suffered ankle and hip injuries in a fall at Killarney in July.

While no jockey ever wants to be on the sidelines, if there is a good time for it to happen to a National Hunt jockey it is in the summer and she will be back in time for Henry de Bromhead’s big guns.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning the Grand National with Minella Times
Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning the Grand National with Minella Times (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“The recovery has gone really well and the doctors are all happy with my progress, so I’d say I’ll be riding out maybe by the end of the month and hopefully back racing in the next couple of weeks,” she told RTÉ Sport.

“It’s part and parcel of our job, unfortunately.

“I’m just glad it didn’t happen in April or March last year.”

Rachael Blackmore in ‘good spirits’ after undergoing surgery following Killarney fall

Rachael Blackmore was reported to be in “good spirits” on Saturday, after undergoing surgery following a fall at Killarney that saw her suffer a fractured ankle and hip injury.

Having steered Baltinglass Hill to a nose victory in the preceding race, the Grand National-winning rider was partnering 11-10 favourite Merry Poppins in the Download The BoyleSports App Handicap Hurdle when parting company at the fifth obstacle.

The 32-year-old was attended to on track by medics for almost half an hour before being moved into an ambulance.

Rachael Blackmore with Minella Times after the Grand National
Rachael Blackmore with Minella Times after the Grand National (David Davies/Jockey Club)

In an update on the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board Twitter feed, senior medical officer Dr Jennifer Pugh said: “Rachael Blackmore sustained a fractured ankle and hip injury following her fall in Killarney on Friday evening.

“She has had surgery overnight and is in good spirits this morning.”

In March, Blackmore became the first woman to ride the winner of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, aboard the brilliant mare Honeysuckle, and her six winners at the Festival saw her crowned leading jockey.

The following month her profile reached stratospheric levels after she became the first woman to land the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree aboard Minella Times.

Rachael Blackmore taken for assessment on leg injury

Rachael Blackmore was taken to hospital for further assessment on a leg injury after suffering a heavy fall at Killarney on Friday.

Having steered Baltinglass Hill to a nose victory in the preceding race, the Grand National-winning rider was partnering 11-10 favourite Merry Poppins in the Download The BoyleSports App Handicap Hurdle when parting company at the fifth obstacle.

The 32-year-old was attended to on track by medics before being moved into an ambulance.

Rachael Blackmore with Honeysuckle at Cheltenham
Rachael Blackmore with Honeysuckle at Cheltenham (David Davies/Jockey Club)

The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board posted an update from Dr Richard Downey on Twitter which read: “Rachael Blackmore is being taken to Tralee Hospital for further assessment on an upper leg injury following a fall in Race 4 at Killarney. She is fully conscious.”

In March Blackmore became the first woman to ride the winner of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, aboard the brilliant mare Honeysuckle, and her six winners at the Festival saw her crowned leading jockey.

The following month her profile reached stratospheric levels after she became the first woman to land the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree aboard Minella Times.

Rachael Blackmore makes Royal Ascot bow on Tuesday

Grand National winner Rachael Blackmore will be in action on day one of Royal Ascot as she teams up with Emmet Mullins’ Cape Gentleman in the Ascot Stakes.

Both horse and rider are more readily associated with the National Hunt code, with Blackmore famously becoming the first female jockey to lift the Aintree showpiece when striking aboard Minella Times in April, while Cape Gentleman is twice a winner over hurdles.

The most recent of the gelding’s triumphs came in the Grade Two Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton in February, but prior to his introduction to jumping, the chestnut was a two-length winner when contesting the Irish Cesarewitch in 2020.

Mullins is now hoping the five-year-old can recreate that Flat form when taking his place amongst a field of 20 for the two-and-a-half-mile contest.

“We’re very excited about him, fingers crossed he’ll run a good race,” he said.

“He’s gone up a fair amount in the weights since he won the Irish Cesarewitch, but he won it well and hopefully there’s a bit more improvement in him.”

Cape Gentleman has form on both good and heavy ground, but Mullins considers the former to be his ideal conditions and is confident his charge will enjoy Ascot turf currently described as good, good to firm in places.

“He won his maiden hurdle on soft or heavy ground at Punchestown, but I think he got away with it through his class,” he explained.

“I think he is a proper good ground horse, I’ve no fears about the conditions at Ascot – he should love it.”

Blackmore will ride alongside the leading Flat jockeys when she takes to the saddle at the Royal Meeting, but she is not a stranger to success on the level and enjoyed a Listed win when teaming up with Mullins’ Oriental Eagle in the Martin Molony Stakes at Limerick last year.

“She’s top class and she’s been lucky enough for me on the Flat,” Mullins said.

“We had a Listed winner last summer, so fingers crossed we can keep it going.”

Blackmore out of luck in France as ‘amazing’ Docteur De Ballon lands Auteuil repeat

Rachael Blackmore was out of her luck on her trip to France for the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris as Docteur De Ballon produced his trademark late run to complete back-to-back victories in the Auteuil showpiece.

Louisa Carberry’s nine-year-old came from last to first in the hands of Betrand Lestrade, running out a ready winner of the Grade One heat over three and three-quarter miles, worth £327,000 to connections.

The nine-year-old had been seen just the twice since collecting the valuable prize in 2020 that was delayed until October due to the pandemic.

Le Berry, David Cottin’s unbeaten five-year-old, was sent off favourite and tried to make all the running. However, his stablemate General En Chef shared pacemaking duties until the complexion of the race changed dramatically at the business end.

General En Chef held a narrow lead at the second-last, but he was strongly challenged by Carriacou. The 2019 winner, ridden by James Reveley, put in a big bid to reclaim his crown – but Docteur De Ballon had other ideas.

The 3-1 shot stormed into the lead and pulled away to score readily by five and a half lengths. Carriacou was second, with three and a half lengths back to Galleo Conti, who snatched third place from General En Chef by a short neck.

Blackmore – riding at Auteuil for the first time – held a prominent position on Ajas for the Cottin stable for most of the race until the seven-year-old ran out of steam in the final half-mile.

British raider Lord Du Mesnil, trained by Richard Hobson, was up with the pace until unshipping Danny Mullins at the 10th fence.

“What an amazing horse. The horse is just everything to us. Philip (Carberry, husband) had done a huge amount of work with him. Bertrand just rides him perfectly,” Carberry told Sky Sports Racing.

“I just wanted him to come home safe this year. I didn’t want to put any pressure on him. To do that is just exceptional. I’m just lucky to have him.”

She added: “It’s unbelievable. To do that is so unreal. Philip has been associated with Princess D’Anjou and won it twice (in 2006 and 2008), now him. It makes you want to cry. It’s just amazing.”

Rachael Blackmore out to make history at Auteuil too

Rachel Blackmore reigned supreme at Cheltenham and Aintree this season – and this weekend, she has France in her sights as she rides Ajas in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris.

Blackmore became the face of the National Hunt game when crowned leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival and then making history with her Grand National victory on Minella Times.

On Sunday, she will be seeking to become the first female jockey to win the most prestigious race of its kind in France, when she teams up with trainer and former champion jockey David Cottin to ride Ajas.

“It’s a privilege to be able to ride in the race and even better when you get to ride a horse like Ajas,” said Blackmore.

“I have watched his videos, and he looks a very nice horse to ride, very straightforward – and it also looks like he’s improving. He is a very exciting horse to ride.

“It’s going to be my first time over there, my first time riding on that track. I think he is a very nice horse to get to experience Auteuil – he knows what he is doing more than anything.”

Coronavirus restrictions have made life tougher for travelling jockeys, of course, and it will be a flying visit for Blackmore – who has called on two of the best when asking for advice.

Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand Nationa
Rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand National (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“Quarantine issues are quite strict, so I am not arriving in France until Sunday morning, and I will walk the track then, and get a feel for it. I also spoke with Ruby (Walsh) during the week, and David Cottin – and he will obviously be able to tell me a lot more than most trainers, I think, about riding the track,” she said.

“I will definitely speak to some people about this, and walk the course myself. At the end of the day, I am the one riding it, and have to kind of figure it out for myself.

“I have obviously only seen pictures and videos (of the fences at Auteuil) – and they look massive! They do look very big, but I am very excited to be able to ride round there – and getting to ride a horse like Ajas makes it all the more exciting.

“In Ireland and England, we have Cheltenham, Punchestown, and the Grand National, but I think that they are closely followed by the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris.

“It’s definitely a race that we would always watch and admire. It’s a race that you would be very excited to be taking part in, and I am just excited about it more than anything!”

Isabelle Pacault was the first female trainer to win the Grand Steeple in 2019 with Carriacou – while Louisa Carberry, married to Champion Hurdle-winning jockey Philip, followed suit last year with Docteur de Ballon. Both former winners line up again.

Blackmore in fine form with Killarney treble

Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a hat-trick of winners during a successful day on the opening card of Killarney’s three-day May meeting.

Mr Tambourine Man triumphed on his second run over hurdles when taking the Follow Killarney Races On Instagram Maiden Hurdle to give the Grand National-winning jockey the first leg of her treble when riding for trainer John Halley.

The four-year-old was previously campaigned on the Flat by Aidan O’Brien and joined Halley’s yard in April to embark on his jumping career.

The Galileo gelding was fourth on his hurdling debut at Kilbeggan, a run he built on to come home eight lengths ahead of San Pedro.

“He had a lovely run the last day in Kilbeggan so (he was) stepping up on that,” Blackmore said of the 4-1 scorer. “It was great he could do that today.

“John does loads of schooling with them, but the penny is still only dropping with him on the jumping side of it.”

Blackmore sealed a double after steering Henry de Bromhead’s Cavalry Master to a four-and-a-half-length victory in the Jim Ryan Racecourse Services Novice Chase.

A seven-year-old by Milan, the grey Cavalry Master (2-1) was an impressive winner at Kilbeggan and handled another furlong on this occasion with aplomb.

“He stepped up again from the last day and is taking to chasing very well,” Blackmore said.

“In the past he won a two-mile bumper at Kilbeggan, so we weren’t sure if he’d stay, but the last day he stayed really well.

“He was up in trip a little further again today and stayed on well again.”

Gin On Lime (15-8) then became Blackmore’s third winner when she prevailed in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Beginners Chase for De Bromhead, easily beating stablemate and 7-4 favourite Tune The Chello by 42 lengths, having been left clear two out.

“She is a very good mare on her day and really enjoyed it there,” Blackmore said.

“She had a little break and seems to have come back from it really well.

“The ground is on the better side of yielding, she jumped and travelled brilliantly and could go through the summer.”

Noel Meade’s Jesse Evans could head for the Galway Hurdle after victory in the Kelly Farm Modernisation Ltd Handicap Hurdle.

The 9-2 winner was a competitive third at Punchestown and improved on that run to succeed by half a length under Sean Flanagan.

“He is obviously a smart horse and his run at Punchestown was his first in a competitive handicap and it has sharpened him up,” the jockey said.

“He might need a trip in time or exactly what we have had today, a really strong gallop – the Galway Hurdle could be a possibility.”

Getaway Gorgeous became a Listed winner when taking the Tourist Attraction Mares Hurdle for Brian Hayes and Willie Mullins.

Running for the first time since finishing last of 23 runners in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, the mare was this time triumphant as she defeated Western Victory by a length and a half.

The seven-year-old was kept towards the rear of the field for much of the race, but began to pick her rivals off in the final furlongs and overcame a messy jump at the last to prevail at 11-2.

“She landed there at the back of the second-last and I had to keep going then and she jinked at the last when she got a bit of light and was wandering around a bit,” Hayes said.

“She was due to run without a hood in Punchestown, but slipped up on the way to the start and was withdrawn, so today was only her second run without a hood and having no hood today maybe lit the fire again and she won well.

“She ran OK when finishing 10th in the Paddy Mullins Hurdle (in February) which worked out to be a great race and I was delighted with her today.”

Call Me Freddie lands Cork gamble

Call Me Freddie just prevailed to land a gamble in the second division of the Mallow Handicap Hurdle at Cork on Saturday.

Trained by Sam Curling, the six-year-old had shown little form since finishing second in a bumper at Carlisle in November 2019 when campaigned by Jedd O’Keeffe.

Call Me Freddie was forecast to be the outsider in a field of 15 at Cork, with Ian McCarthy originally booked to ride. However, it was announced at 2.18pm that Grand National-winning jockey Rachael Blackmore would be in the saddle.

Blackmore had to work hard for the win aboard Call Me Freddie though, with the gelding, who was eventually sent off the 11-4 favourite having been a 40-1 chance, battling it out with Wild Atlantic Lady after the last.

The challenger briefly got her head in front, but Call Me Freddie found a little extra under Blackmore’s drive, edging back in front by a neck at the line.

Curling said: “He had been very disappointing on softer ground and we actually sent him to the sales, but he was sent back.

“He had done a couple of good bits of work, but I don’t know where all the money came from.

“He ran in a maiden hurdle over three miles and you’d think he’d want soft ground, but he obviously doesn’t.

“He’ll run away during the summer and he’ll have no bother jumping a fence – he’d jump fences better even, as he jumps Easyfix hurdles better.”

Curling explained the necessity for a switch in rider, adding: “It is unfortunate for Ian as he forgot to sign in (for yesterday’s health screening) and he’ll get back on him the next day.”

Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said: “Hats off to the punters who backed the winner – we saw plenty of support from 40s down throughout the day and we felt the writing might be on the wall when we saw the pilot change. A proper, old-fashioned coup and well done to all involved.”

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.

Honeysuckle extends unbeaten run with dominant Punchestown display

Honeysuckle capped an amazing campaign when taking her unbeaten record to 12 in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.

Henry de Bromhead’s remarkable mare followed up her victory at Cheltenham with another convincing display in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

Asked to go and win the race after jumping the second-last flight, Honeysuckle soon put daylight between herself and her rivals.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle with Honeysuckle
Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle with Honeysuckle (Brian Lawless/PA)

Her supporters had a slight scare coming to the last when the 4-7 favourite steadied going into it, giving Sharjah a chance to catch her.

However, she pulled away again on the run-in to score by two and a quarter lengths. Epatante was 10 lengths away in third in a repeat of the positions in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Honeysuckle was cut to 2-1 favourite from 11-4 to defend her Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham next spring with Paddy Power.

“It’s 100 per cent relief – I nearly threw it away at the last,” said Blackmore.

“She was feeling the season a little bit I think, but she’s just phenomenal.

“I wasn’t as comfortable throughout the race on her today, but still she just delivers.

“Real stars get jockeys out of trouble. I did sleep last night – sleeping is never a bother.”

Rachael Blackmore with her Punchestown trophy
Rachael Blackmore with her Punchestown trophy

Blackmore and De Bromhead have endured a disappointing week by their own high standards, with Honeysuckle a first success at this year’s Festival.

Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo had to miss his intended run on Wednesday due to a minor issue while star novice hurdler Bob Olinger was ruled out of his Punchestown engagement at a late stage due to coughing.

De Bromhead said: “We weren’t having an amazing week, but she always gets us out of trouble. She’s amazing. I’m just delighted for Kenny (Alexander, owner), Peter (Molony) and everyone involved.

“She was brilliant and Rachael was brilliant on her.

“She’s like a lot of those really good horses, she has such a will to win and Rachael is so good on her.

“She’s done that before at the last, but thankfully Rachael had it all under control. It’s been an amazing season and that’s a great way to finish it off.”

Honeysuckle jumps the last at Punchestown
Honeysuckle jumps the last at Punchestown (Brian Lawless/PA)

Molony, who is Alexander’s racing manager, admitted there is a “temptation” to switch to chasing with Honeysuckle, who was a point to point winner before embarking on her career under rules.

He said: “We have to sit down and have a chat about it (plans for next season).

“The safe option would be to go back over hurdles and it’d be wonderful if we could win another Champion Hurdle in Cheltenham and another Irish Champion Hurdle – that would be wonderful.

“There is a temptation there (to go over fences). She’s a wonderful jumper – she looks like a chasing mare. The temptation is there – how exciting would it be, but we’ll have a chat.

“I know she does (jump fences), I’ve seen her do it (schooling on Sunday mornings). We’ll see.”

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.

Honeysuckle out to complete Champion double

Henry de Bromhead is delighted with Honeysuckle as the dream mare bids to take her perfect record under rules to 12 in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.

Honeysuckle has simply gone from strength to strength and has already won seven Grade Ones.

Her latest triumph at the top level came at the Cheltenham Festival last month when she lifted the biggest prize of them all, the Champion Hurdle.

Success on Friday would be a fitting way to cap her remarkable campaign.

Honeysuckle has never run at Punchestown – but it is where she was sold for €110,000 three years ago, just days after winning a point-to-point. She went to be trained by De Bromhead – and the rest is history.

“Every Sunday morning she reminds me how good she could be over fences as she just starts popping away and she does jump them really well,” he said.

“She’s done that all her life, so we don’t really think about it, and to win at Punchestown would be brilliant. It’s where we started the journey.”

De Bromhead was thrilled by her success at Cheltenham.

“She came off the bridle a little coming down the hill, but once she came upsides it was nice to watch,” he added.

“I was surprised she was that far back, but obviously it worked out – Rachael (Blackmore) was brilliant on her. They’re a great combination.

“She seems good. This is the first time she has run back after travelling, so that’s different. But she seems really well, and we’re happy.

“We’ll see about chasing – it’s something to discuss in the summer. She’s so good over hurdles you wonder if you can visualise her in a mares’ beginners’ chase somewhere.”

Blackmore and Honeysuckle have been an invincible partnership for the past three seasons.

“I love riding her, but that goes without saying,” the Grand National-winning jockey told BetVictor.

“She was incredible in Cheltenham, and seems to be improving all the time.

“She seems to have come out of Cheltenham really well. She didn’t go to Punchestown last year, but seems so well this year we’re hoping to keep it going.

“I think her performances this year show she’s improving. From the Irish Champion to Cheltenham, she’s improved with every run – and I’m just very lucky to have her.”

De Bromhead boosts his challenge with Champion Hurdle fourth Aspire Tower and Jason The Militant accompanying their illustrious stablemate.

“Aspire Tower will take her on again,” added the County Waterford handler.

“He’s in great form and came out of Cheltenham well, but his jumping let him down a bit there.

“Jason The Militant was a bit unfortunate (to unseat) at Aintree, but he seems in mighty form.

“It was frustrating. But he came back safe and sound, and we can’t complain too much.”

Sharjah, runner-up to Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle, takes the mighty mare on again and is Willie Mullins’ only representative in the race.

“Sharjah ran a fantastic race in Cheltenham,” said the champion trainer.

“I don’t think he could have improved much more.”

Former Champion Hurdle winner Epatante will be taking on Honeysuckle again
Former Champion Hurdle winner Epatante will be taking on Honeysuckle again (Tim Goode/PA)

Epatante was only third in the defence of her Cheltenham crown. But connections are pleased with the Nicky Henderson-trained mare as she has another crack at Honeysuckle. It is also her first race in Ireland.

“It’s a great race, and Honeysuckle is going to be very hard to beat,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.

“Nicky’s very happy with her, but he was happy with her going to Cheltenham as well. She has a bit to do to reverse the placings – Honeysuckle is very good and she is going to take a lot of beating.

“We just hope she runs a big race.”

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.

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.

Frost finds magic touch on afternoon to savour at Sandown

In a season where Rachael Blackmore has understandably grabbed all the headlines, Bryony Frost reminded everyone of her talents as the campaign came to a close at Sandown.

Frost’s historic achievement in winning the King George VI Chase aboard Frodon has been overshadowed by Blackmore’s spectacular Cheltenham and Grand National efforts – but reunited with her favourite horse at Sandown, a partnership that just seems made to measure came home in front once more.

Paul Nicholls’ nine-year-old answered every call in the bet365 Oaksey Chase, simply refusing to give in to Nico de Boinville and Mister Fisher.

Frost – the first woman to ride a winner over jumps at the Cheltenham Festival – said: “What he’s done for me is incredible.

Frodon and Bryony Frost in full flight
Frodon and Bryony Frost in full flight (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We went a right good gallop the whole way – I wondered if he’d enjoy letting himself on this ground, but Sandown have done a great job in making it safe.

“What a battle – Mister Fisher was all over us, but this lad won’t go down without a fight.

“He’s everything you want, you dream of horses like him.”

Reflecting further on the victory of the 4-5 favourite, who prevailed by a neck, Frost said: “On form, you’d call us a certainty but nothing is in racing.

“He’s had a long season and Paul’s done a fantastic job along with everyone at home to make sure he’s here and have enough energy levels to take this race on.

“Yes, he’s plenty good enough to be seeing them all off but we were tired and they took us on down the back and I thought we were beat when Nico loomed up like that on us, but he is the definition of brave and the definition of determination.”

As it turned out, Frodon was to prove the hors d’oeuvre for Frost and Nicholls.

All eyes were on Altior in the bet365 Celebration Chase, and the former champion set off as if meaning business – shooting into the lead and putting in some magnificent leaps in the process.

A beaming Bryony Frost with Greaneteen
A beaming Bryony Frost with Greaneteen (PA)

But Frost was alert to every move with Greaneteen (13-2) and at pains to make sure De Boinville did not get too much rope as things started to hot up, not needing a second invitation when Altior came off the rail.

Quickening very smartly, he had Altior coming back at the line but was ultimately a comfortable three-and-three-quarter-length winner.

Frost said: “I said coming in the car I hoped it was going to be a good day for us and thankfully it really has been.

“Altior is a force to be reckoned with on a bad day or a good day. I used how my horse travels very forward on his bit. He likes to get on with his job so I just allowed that gap to come down going down the hill so I thought we better take it and hunt him and close him down so we don’t have to do the hard work on the uphill part of the course. Luckily it worked out to our fortune.

“He has really progressed and he is a horse that has probably been overlooked a little bit this year.

“This horse has one chink in his armour in that he can be a bit too keen, but he’s learning to settle and I have a 100 per cent strike-rate on him from winning a novice hurdle on him to winning the Celebration Chase today.”

Looking back on her season, Frost added: “There have been some serious lows and brilliant highs. For me personally I’ve ended up on 47 so I’ve been so close to matching my best season and with the two months short and being out for those couple of days after Aintree I’m happy with how it has gone.

“We’ve won a King George with Frodon and we’ve been able to put the icing on the cake as it were today with him with a massive battle which he is known for and to get Greaneteen his Grade One is huge.

“It has been a massive turn of the clock this afternoon and getting a Grade One with the little ‘Grean Machine’ as we call him it’s just epic, it’s awesome.”

Frost was out of action after being unseated from Yala Enki in the National and suffering concussion. She was quick to pay tribute to the staff at the Injured Jockeys Fund’s Oaksey House.

She said: “I was in a dark room with the sun shining outside and you are looking at the racing going past you, but it is what it is and you have only got one head and you have got to look after it and make sure you come back 110 per cent.

“The IJF and Oaksey House have been amazing to me. Emma, who has been my physio through this head injury, has been brilliant. She contained me and said don’t take your test too soon as we have a further 10 days off if we fail and that would have meant missing today.

“I felt sharp out there today, but then again I’m on the winners and when you ride the winners it is the easiest place to ride, it is when you are second or third that is sometimes the hardest.

“When I won the conditional title and got 50 winners I said I didn’t know how I would match that. I never knew how I would match winning a Grade One on Black Corton at Kempton, then I went and won a Ryanair and we did the King George.

“When you surround yourself by good people and intelligent people and that are very good at their job it allows you to be the best you can be and get to the levels you dream of.”