THE National Hunt season is about to commence and jockey Jody Townend is looking forward to the new campaign with relish.
The young Lisgoold rider is attached to the all-conquering Willie Mullins yard who is putting his team through their early paces as winter ground sets in.
Townend enjoyed the biggest success of her career with the victory of Princess Zoe in the Ladies Derby at the Curragh this summer.
This German-bred filly has gone on to win four races since, culminating with victory in the Group 1 Cadran on ‘Arc’ weekend at Longchamp.
Trainer Tony Mullins is one of the great characters of the game, so this high-profile victory was widely lauded at the weekend. Getting on these good horses is half the battle and Townend has been extremely impressed by this horse’s progress.
Townend says: “It was fantastic to see Princess Zoe win a Group 1 on the biggest weekend of the flat season. When I won the ladies Derby back in July, we all thought she was very smart, but it’s impossible to predict how far up the ladder a horse can go.
“Tony has done a brilliant job with this horse and its fantastic to see him with a progressive horse like her. Connections have plenty of options as she is an absolute star.”
Having played her part in the Princess Zoe story Townend is now heavily involved with the Willie Mullins team.
Townend says: “I’m at Closutton from Monday to Thursday which is great as there are so many nice horses to ride out so it’s an exciting time of the year. I also ride out for Garrett Ahern and my dad when I’m down for the weekends. I was riding in Killarney on Monday, so I finished third on Whoyakodding in a handicap hurdle for Garrett and then finished second in a Beginners Chase for my father.
“The horses are running well so hopefully I can get among the winners over the coming weeks. Obviously, all the big guns at Closutton are weeks away from a run but they are all back in full training.”
While the opening Grade 1s are a few weeks away, the Mullins team will be concentrating on a couple of high profile races on the flat, including the English Cesarewitch and the Melbourne Cup.
Great White Shark will represent the Mullins team tomorrow at Newmarket. Of course, Jody Townend is very familiar with riding this horse after winning the big amateur handicap at Galway last summer.
“I actually ride out Great White Shark every morning, so the race tomorrow is huge. She has been working really well at home and William Buick will ride. But this is a big race so luck in running is massive. Willie also has a couple of horses gone out to Australia for the Melbourne Cup, Stratum and True Self.
All the horses are in great form, so fingers crossed over the next couple of weeks with the flat horses. After that it will be full steam ahead with the national hunt season.”
Elsewhere, there was surprise when Robbie Power revealed during the week that he will base himself in Britain due to the current restrictions in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey has made frequent trips across the Irish Sea in recent seasons, enabling him to ride for both Jessica Harrington at home and Colin Tizzard in Britain.
However, with Covid-19 protocols making such an arrangement impossible, Power has moved to Britain for the foreseeable future.
Power said: “I came over on Tuesday night on the boat and brought my car over. With the restrictions the way they are at the moment, I can’t do what I’ve been doing for the last few years — flying back and forth.
“I’m living in Stow-on-the-Wold with Will Kennedy and his partner Rachel and Johnny Burke. It wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve obviously had a long association with Jessie (Harrington) for a long time and built up a good relationship with Robcour (owners) as well.
“It was difficult to decide to come and stay over here, but with the quality of horses that the Tizzards have this year, it was something I kind of had to do.”
Power will be able to make fleeting visits to his homeland following last month’s change to coronavirus quarantine rules for sportspeople, which permits overseas jockeys to ride on Group or Grade One race days in Ireland. He admits the biggest wrench in making the semi-permanent move is leaving behind his wife Hannah and young daughter Emma.
Power added: “I can still return to Ireland on Grade One days and that is what I plan to do. Chris’s Dream is planned to run in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase, so my first return to Ireland will be to ride in Down Royal, all being well.
“The hardest part of it is leaving my daughter and wife, but Hannah is very practical and knows that needs must. It’s a difficult time for everybody and she understands the situation.
“Hopefully this Covid thing will go away and we can get back to some sort of normality.”
Power is one of the best jockeys in the game and he will be a big loss to the Irish scene. He partnered Shybairnsgetnowt in the bumper at Ffos Las on Thursday, but will take up several mounts for the Tizzard team at Chepstow on Friday and Saturday.