PAUL Townend will be crowned Champion Jockey for the fifth time as the Punchestown Festival concludes tomorrow.
The Lisgoold rider has enjoyed another brilliant season and completed the Cheltenham-Punchestown double with superstars Allaho and Energumene.
Allaho made all to win the Punchestown Gold Cup on his return to three miles over fences under Paul Townend for Willie Mullins. It was largely a straightforward success for the dual Ryanair winner, who jumped left at some of the fences but dominated from the front and responded to pressure to pull 14 lengths clear of Clan Des Obeaux and Al Boum Photo for the Donnelly’s. He returned the 6-5 favourite.
Paul Townend added: "He went a bit to his left and didn't jump as well as he probably can to be honest. It was just probably correcting himself, he wasn't left at every fence but he was left at some of them which he has done before. I didn't want to interfere with him galloping, but at the same time, I wasn't going to give him a root in the belly and set him alight and pull up three from home.
"He's just a monster, isn't he? I didn't dare turn and have a look at the back of the last, though. Fair play to Willie for rolling the dice and the owners. He is obviously an older and stronger horse now. They were always going to test him whether he stayed or not, but he can take horses out of their comfort zone."
Allaho had yet to score at the highest level previously over three miles, finishing third in the 2020 RSA Chase and fourth in the following season’s Savills Chase. He will certainly be a big player for the King George over Christmas at Kempton. It was a Grade 1 double for Townend and Mullins who were successful in the previous race with The Nice Guy, who was also winning at the two signature spring festivals.
Energumene was all class completing the Champion Chases double with another emphatic display under Townend as the curtain comes down on another brilliant jumps season. Energumene was Willie Mullins' first winner of Cheltenham's Champion Chase last month and re-opposed stablemate Chaqun Pour Soi, which had unseated rider at halfway at the Cotswolds.
Energumene tracked the leaders and while threatened by his stablemate jumping the second-last, soon quickened clear to win by eight and a half lengths. Following the race Mullins reported “Chacun Pour Soi has had a great career and hopefully he'll win more races but I think we've seen the new champion here today.
“The ground would have suited most of the other horses in the race but I wasn't sure whether it would suit Energumene but he went on it today anyhow. On this ground that was a tremendous performance.
"We'll plan next year with both horses and probably go down different paths. I thought Chacun had his chance landing over the second last and I thought 'the race is on here' but Energumene just found so much in the tank.
“On this ground, to me, that was as good if not better than he ever did before. He just seems to be improving with racing and he's learning all the time. We learned an awful lot from Ascot, we learned more about how to ride him and have more confidence in him. That's the way Paul has been doing it now and it's worked twice since.
“He's by the same sire (Denham Red) as Un De Sceaux and looked like he might be a similar sort but he has a lot more speed than we gave him credit for. The fact that he was able to come off a pace like that shows the speed, he was still able to gallop away from them and show speed going down to the last fence. It tells me that he's improving all the time.”
Champion Trainer Willie Mullins hopes to have another Gold Cup horse on his hands with Capodanno, as the JP McManus owned gelding landed Punchestown's Grade 1 Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase. Fortunate Cheltenham festival winner Bob Olinger started 6/5 favourite for the race but having jumped right at the first fence, faded tamely from four out and was soon pulled up.
It's back to the drawing board for Bob Olinger trainer Gordon Elliot completed a four-timer on the opening day of the meeting and won the opening race of the Punchestown festival with the Davy Russell-ridden Party Central (9/4). The race was Punchestown festival's first to be run in front of paying customers since 2019 and began with a cheer from the crowd.
Party Central, who was seventh in the mares' novice hurdle at Cheltenham last month, improved from behind the leaders to lead jumping the last and eventually by a length and a quarter with another master from the evergreen Russell.
Afterwards Elliott stated: “She loves that ground and Davy gave her a superb ride. He said he was happy the whole way, the one thing you don't want to do is get to the front too soon as she idles. We haven't discussed going chasing yet but I can't see why she won't jump a fence. She's a nice mare and I'd say ground is a big key to her, she just doesn't like real depths of winter heavy ground."