Cork jockey Paul Townend is hoping to take centre stage at Cheltenham

Cork jockey Paul Townend is hoping to take centre stage at Cheltenham
The Willie Mullins string is led onto the gallops by Paul Townend on Benie Des Dieux, left, and Ruby Walsh on Chacun Pour Soi ahead of the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

PAUL TOWNEND is not feeling any extra pressure as Cheltenham starts on Tuesday without Ruby Walsh for the first time since the most successful jockey retired last year with 59 wins at the Festival.

The east Cork man is now the top rider for Willie Mullins and great things are expected from him this week.

"The Cheltenham Festival is here again. I am feeling good. All the work is done, the horses are in good form and we just need a bit of luck from here on.

"It doesn’t feel a whole lot different to other years, even though Ruby Walsh has now retired. I was going to the meeting with a good book rides in previous years as well.

"There is a little bit more pressure, a bit more focus than pressure, but that’s probably because I have better chances, so I wouldn’t swap it.

Picture: Healy Racing
Picture: Healy Racing

"My first ride is Asterion Forlonge (1.30pm), who I am really looking forward to riding. He impressed me a lot when he won in Naas and probably surprised me with the pace he showed to win at Leopardstown.

He is a very strong stayer. He is a good ride to start the meeting with in that he is straightforward. 

"We shouldn’t be getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of the race and it would be a dream start if we could get off the mark.

It’s a hot race with Shishkin and Fiddleronthehoof who I know Robbie Power really likes. It is sporting of Mr Donnelly to let Asterion Forlonge and Shishkin run in the same race.

From what I understand he leaves it all up to the trainers. He employs them to do a job and I suppose they are coming out of different camps. If the trainers think this is the best place to be, he rolls with that.

Like Asterion Forlonge, Cash Back (2.10pm) is straightforward in that he has one way of running. He likes to get on with things and he is gaining good experience all the time.

It will be a typical Arkle, fast and furious from the get-go. He has a bit to find with Notebook, but I don’t think it is beyond the realms of possibility that he could reverse the form. 

"If we do go very hard it could set it up for the likes of Fakir D’oudaries coming from behind.

"I am on Cilaos Emery (3.30pm) in the Champion Hurdle. Sharjah is Patrick’s ride. I am very happy with Cilaos.

"It’s an open race but I just hope it’s not going to be a messy race with all the runners. I hope we can get a clear run around and if we can keep a lid on Cilaos in the preliminaries that will be a positive.

"It’s hard to pick the winner of the race. It’s probably wrong to knock the runners but when we don’t have a stand out we tend to think it’s not a very good race.

"Cilaos jumped okay in the main, and was the better the faster we went at Gowran Park. 

"Luke McMahon coughed up the money to supplement and let’s hope he can get that back.

"I am really looking forward to riding Benie Des Dieux (4.10pm). It’s good to have her as an anchor on the first day.

She has a bit of unfinished business there but she is an incredible mare. 

"She is so versatile but it won’t be simple with Honeysuckle in the field, and Willie has two other decent mares in Stormy Ireland and Elfile.

"Hopefully it will be a true run race. We will keep it as simple as we can. She obviously stays well but this probably is her best trip and it’s against mares as well.

"I wasn’t on her last year when she fell but it will be brilliant to be going to the last with the luxury of being able to think about what happened then and not being in a tight battle.

"I don’t see that happening as I’m sure Honeysuckle will be giving me something else to think about."

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