Paul Townend will retain his Champion Jockey title after two more wins

Lisgoold jockey has delivered at the Punchestown Festival to hold off rival Rachel Blackmore
Paul Townend will retain his Champion Jockey title after two more wins

Jockey Paul Townend and Energumene after winning the Ryanair Novice Steeplechase during day three of the Punchestown Festival. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

CORK'S 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.

Tipperary's Blackmore had six rides but second place aboard Raya Time in the Pigsback.com 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.

 Gauloise and Paul Townend jump the last to win the CLose Brothers Mares Novice Hurdle. Picture: Healy Racing.
Gauloise and Paul Townend jump the last to win the CLose Brothers Mares Novice Hurdle. Picture: Healy Racing.

Energumene provided Willie Mullins with yet another Grade One winner at the Punchestown Festival when making all the running in the Ryanair Novice Chase.

Having added to his tally in the top-level events when Klassical Dream defied a lengthy absence in the Stayers Hurdle, this success looked likely a long way from home.

Energumene was denied a clash with Shishkin in the Arkle at Cheltenham due to a small setback, but he made a swift recovery and he was sent off the 2-5 favourite to beat a field of just three rivals.

One of those was his stablemate, Janadil, a Grade One winner last time out, while Captain Guinness this time took a lead having tried to set the pace at Cheltenham.

He possibly had no say in that matter though, as Energumene set off at a rare lick under Paul Townend and jumping well, just eased further clear.

By the home straight Captain Guinness was running on empty and eventually unseated Rachael Blackmore, but Janadil had already claimed second by then.

Energumene came home 16 lengths clear and Paddy Power immediately cut him to 6-1 from 12s for next year's Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

Mullins said: "He seems to be back to himself. He was very slick early on, met a few wrong down the back, but once he got his eye in again over the last four, he was brilliant.

"It was a great performance to finish up the season.

"It was a nice surprise to get him back because I thought when we had to scratch him from Cheltenham, we'd miss Punchestown.

"He just made a very quick recovery. We were hoping to get him to Fairyhouse but that didn't work, so I said we'd be better off taking our time and coming here and that paid off."

Energumene and Paul Townend win the Ryanair Novice Steeplechase (Grade 1). Picture: Healy Racing
Energumene and Paul Townend win the Ryanair Novice Steeplechase (Grade 1). Picture: Healy Racing

When asked if he would get further, Mullins added: "He's won over two and a half miles and has won a point-to-point, the only reason I came back was because he was so slick jumping.

"I thought he'd be a two-and-a-half-mile horse, more like Janidil, but when he gets his jumping right, he's more like a hurdler over fences.

"I'd imagine we'll go the Champion Chase route first and we'll see how that goes.

"He's a nice one for (owner) Tony Bloom to have."

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