CHAMPION Jockey Paul Townend enjoyed a brilliant Cheltenham Festival and ended the week as the leading rider with five winners.
Energumene delivered a first Champion Chase for Townend and Willie Mullins and was the highlight of the week.
Allaho was imperious in the Ryanair Chase and put in a breath-taking round of jumping while Sir Gerhard claimed the Ballymore in the driving rain.
A Triumph Hurdle victory aboard Vauban was followed up with a smooth victory aboard State Man in the County Hurdle on the final day of the meeting.
There was also a dramatic last fence fall on Galopin Des Champs while a crashing fall in the opening race of the four-day festival aboard Dysart Dynamo wasn’t the start the Lisgoold rider was hoping for.
“Overall it was a very good week and winning the Jockeys Title there is always a great thrill. Five winners at the end of the week was great as the racing is so competitive. It nearly didn’t happen as the fall from Dysart Dynamo was a bad one and I was very sore from it but luckily there was nothing broken.
“There is so much hype and build-up to the week and drawing a blank on the opening day was frustrating. But you must get over the early disappointment and look forward to day two. Thankfully Sir Gerhard won the first and you just take each race as it comes. His class got him through really.
“Energumene was very good, and the Champion Chase is such an iconic race. It was very tough deciding whether to ride him or Chaqun Pour Soi as the latter is a brilliant horse on his day. Shiskin never travelled so that probably made life a bit easier for us and the ground came in our favour. It was a very special win as Willie was winning the race for the first time and it meant a lot to all of us.”
There is no sport like horse racing to bring you down to earth and the agony of Galopin Des Champs coming down in the Turner’s Novice Chase when cruising to victory was the low point of the week for Townend. Replays showed the horse had jumped the fence perfectly but just slipped on landing.
Bob Olinger and Rachael Blackmore picked up the pieces. Like all great champions, he rose to the occasion in brilliant fashion with a spectacular victory on Allaho in the Ryanair Chase.
His boss Willie Mullins was effusive in his praise saying: “There was a lot of pressure on Paul after the way the horse jumped and galloped for Rachael Blackmore last year.
There was a lot of pressure coming into this competition after what happened in the first race there was even more added pressure, but as I always say Paul Townend is better with pressure — when there’s someone leaning on his neck, he excels.
“You wouldn’t think he had any nerves at all the way he jumped out, jumped from fence to fence and came down to the last as if it wasn’t there. That’s the mark of a champion. I was a nervous wreck watching. The horse was doing everything right for Paul and coming to the last it was brilliant to see them head to the finish line together.”
The Lisgoold rider has struck up a great partnership with fellow Cork man Joe Donnelly and the pair won consecutive Gold Cups together with Al Boum Photo. While they failed to fire on this occasion in the Gold Cup the performance of State Man in the County Hurdle was certainly very impressive.
“It’s great to ride winners for the Donnellys as we have enjoyed such success together. State Man is certainly a horse for the future and had a nice mark for a handicap. We came down at the Christmas meeting at Leopardstown, but it was brilliant to get the job done at Cheltenham.”
Townend is currently leading the Jockeys Championship here but there is still plenty of competitive racing here before the end of the season including Fairyhouse and Punchestown while the focus shifts to Aintree this week with the three-day meeting that culminates with the Grand National.
Mullins is within striking distance in the race for the British Trainers Title and all eyes will be on his declarations during the week.
“As everyone knows Willie will leave things late before committing to Aintree. We will have runners over there and will have a few in the Grand National. Everyone looks forward to this meeting as well as the race is such an iconic one in the history of the sport. It’s still one that has eluded me anyway but hopefully, I’ll ride something in the race for the boss.”