LISGOOLD jockey Paul Townend won his first race at the Cheltenham Festival a decade ago, back in 2011, riding What A Charm to victory in the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
The brilliant jockey will have high hopes for the week ahead and he's as short as 2-5 favourite to claim the top jockey title at Prestbury Park. Al Boum Photo will face a maximum of 12 rivals as he shoots for a third successive victory in Friday's WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Paul Townend, a Ladbrokes ambassador, says he “wouldn’t swap Al Boum Photo for the world” as he looks forward to next Friday’s WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup in which they will bid to clinch a historic third victory in the Festival showpiece.
Al Boum Photo, winner of the last two runnings, will become only the fifth horse in history to win the race three or more times, joining Best Mate, Arkle, Golden Miller and Cottage Rake, if he triumphs.
Townend, 30, stable jockey to Willie Mullins, was a 13-year-old schoolboy when Best Mate clinched the last of his three victories in 2004 and now gets his own chance to emulate Jim Culloty.
“This is the big one of the week,” says Ladbrokes ambassador Townend. “Al Boum Photo is in great form at home.
“It would be brilliant to win three Gold Cups.
"I wouldn’t swap him for the world.
“A Plus Tard and Champ are probably the main dangers at the minute. Willie has been delighted with him and hopefully, I will get to sit on him for one of his last bits of work. I am really looking forward to getting back on him and having a crack at winning three in a row.”
Al Boum Photo beat Santini and Lostintranslation, who are both set to reoppose, by a neck and a length and a half 12 months ago. He has had just one run since, winning at Tramore on New Year’s Day in an identical programme to last season.
“I can’t see why any of the horses that were there last year can turn the form around with him,” Townend adds.
“You have to take A Plus Tard and Champ seriously on their most recent performances. In saying that we don’t know if A Plus Tard will stay and Champ hasn't had the ideal preparation for the race.
“We couldn’t be happier with where we are. I think Al Boum Photo is the most solid horse in the race and hopefully, things will go right on the day.”
Speaking on his chances, Townend said "He’s going into the race with a very strong line of form, of the Irish horses anyway. It’s hard to get a line to the English form but he will surely handle the track, so that’s not a worry. I believe he has the pace for two miles over there and at the start of the week there is a better chance for the ground to be on the slow side as well."
Wednesday could be another big day for Townend as he will ride a couple of strong favourites. Speaking on his leading chances, he said: "Gaillard Du Mesnil is a horse that has improved with every run this year. He got beaten in his maiden, was very impressive in Leopardstown and franked that form the next day. I think Bob Olinger is going to be very strong opposition to him here. I am hoping my lad can improve again. I can’t see the track being an issue for him."
"What can I say about Monkfish? He’s been foot perfect in everything he has done this season. I hope he can get there and put up a performance like he has so far this year. I am really looking forward to him. He is growing up the whole time. He looks to be getting better with every run. I am keeping everything crossed that we get a good run around. I think he is a really class horse."
Chanur Pour Soi could well give Willie Mullins and Paul Townend a first Queen Mother Champion Chase. "He’s been excellent this year in Ireland. He is one I am really, really looking forward to. I can’t see Cheltenham being an issue, but we don’t know because unfortunately, he hasn’t got there yet."
Stattler will be many peoples selection in the Albert Bartlett, Townend said: "He ran a cracker in Leopardstown behind Gaillard Du Mesnil when I was scratching my head which one I would ride going there. He didn’t do anything to disappoint me that day and I think three miles in Cheltenham will really suit him. I think he is an improving horse and similar to Monkfish last year, whatever he can do this year he will be a better horse again next year."
It promises to be another exciting week of brilliant racing at the Cheltenham Festival.
Townend has a couple of tough choices to make over the coming days, however, one thing is for sure, we can expect plenty of winners for Paul Townend. A proven top-class winning jockey, he is sure to prove very popular among punters this week.