Cork jockey Paul Townend looks ahead to day one of Cheltenham which begins on Tuesday

The first day is very important to us. We have a lot of big guns to fire and they all have real solid chances. It could be a very good day…hopefully not a very bad one.
Cork jockey Paul Townend looks ahead to day one of Cheltenham which begins on Tuesday

Paul Townend on Appreciate It wins The Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

I am here at Cheltenham today. I will ride out every morning and then walk the track in the evening to prepare for Tuesday. 

The Monday is a long day, with too much time to think. I have purposely not watched Drive To Survive on Netflix and saved it for here!

The first day is very important to us. We have a lot of big guns to fire and they all have real solid chances. It could be a very good day…hopefully not a very bad one.

My mind was made up for the Supreme, when Dysart Dynamo was declared. It’s a really good race with Constitution Hill and Jonbon but I genuinely think I have a really solid chance. Some of the Irish ones have been overlooked, with mine being the leading Irish one. If people can forgive him, Kilcruit is working really well at home and put in a good performance the last day. He will give them all something to think about. You also have Mighty Potter thrown in there and Bring On The Night was the winner of a good maiden. There are only nine runners but it’s hugely competitive with a lot of quality.

I won the race last year for the first time with Appreciate It. To win the first race is an unreal feeling. I would hear everyone say how good it is to win it and how it settles you in for the week. It’s not until I won it last year that I realised how much it actually settles you. We had an up and down week after that but at least I had one on the board and could ride freely after that.

Paul Townend debriefs owner Luke McMahon and Ruby Walsh after Whiskey Sour won the Anton O'Toole Hurdle.
Paul Townend debriefs owner Luke McMahon and Ruby Walsh after Whiskey Sour won the Anton O'Toole Hurdle.

Blue Lord has a good chance in the Arkle. That said, there’s a lot of horses in here with good chances. My horse was very closely matched with Riviere D’etel at Leopardstown. We are slightly better off in the weight now with her. I think Edwardstone deserves to be favourite but our lad is improving. He kept good company over hurdles, chasing has improved him and he will be there in the mix. Haut En Couleurs and Saint Sam will have to jump better so I am happy to be on Blue Lord. He is a Grade 1 winner and I would say between him and the mare there’s only the difference of a jump in it. If I can get by Edwardstone it will be a close finish.

In the Champion Hurdle, I am on Appreciate It and I give us a chance against Honeysuckle. It is a race I am really looking forward to. It’s not ideal stepping into open company to take her on and at Cheltenham as well. However, he is a real natural jumper and he’s mature in his way of racing so he has enough experience. If you were to pick a horse to throw into the deep end, I think he’s tough enough to do it. We don’t know how good Honeysuckle is and if we don’t win, we will definitely give her a fight.

It’s a race I have never won. I have been second in it I’d say a half a dozen times so hopefully I can go one better. This is one of the four big ones and a race I always showed huge interest in through my connection with Hurricane Fly when I started at Willie’s. This is a race I would love to tick off the list.

Picking which horse to ride in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle was the most difficult decision I had to make on the first day. I have gone with Stormy Ireland over Burning Victory. She is joint-top rated and her form has been as good as anything in the race in the last season. I feel Western Victory could be a thorn in my side and likes to go forward like my horse, but I think Stormy Ireland is maturing and is a much easier ride now. She likes the front run, but I don’t think it’s a necessity for her anymore. Once Western Victory is going quick enough, we might be happy to take a lead off of her. Burning Victory was a good winner the last day and I think there is improvement there. She beat Queens Brook who will also improve for the run at Punchestown. She is also a Triumph Hurdle winner but I have gone with Stormy Ireland because I think her recent form is very strong.

In the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, I ride Gaelic Warrior who has been a talking horse for a while. He looks nicely treated on what he’s showed us at home off his mark of 129. With protecting his mark, we have sacrificed experience running over Irish or English style hurdles and the style of racing. It is a rough and ready race but I think he has enough racing experience from running around Auteuil. If he can overcome his lack of experience, I would put him down as my strongest chance of the day.

Being favourite to be Top Jockey at the festival is nice as it means I have the best chance of riding winners. I don’t think any jockey follows it really until Friday morning when you are in with a chance. There is a nice prize in it and it is a nice honour. The year I beat Barry Geraghty I didn’t realise how close it was. Everytime I looked at the TV he seemed to be riding winners, then I came out and rode a treble on the Friday and beat him on seconds. It is something you can’t focus on, if it happens it happens, and it would be nice.

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