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 the Lisgoold jockey 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 percent 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.