Due to the unfortunate injury of jockey Ruby Walsh, Paul Townend is the man in pole position to pick up any number of exciting rides for trainer Willie Mullins over the weeks ahead.
Townend is not your normal number two jockey. He has been champion rider in Ireland and already has several Cheltenham Festival wins to his name.
Townend has a number of big rides this weekend in Britain and Ireland. Here he speaks to us about their prospects and gives the latest on some of the Mullins stars.
You ride Total Recall in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on Saturday. How are things with him?
He was very impressive winner of the Munster National and he’s had a huge hike in the ratings off the back of that. This is a different grade of race so he’ll have to up his game, but he seems in good order and he couldn’t have been any more impressive in his one run for us. He has a nice racing weight and I think he can improve again.
Willie Mullins also runs Pleasant Company. What chance does he have?
He hasn’t run in a while so that’d be a disadvantage, I’d say, as he won’t have the same level of race fitness. He’s in really good form at home but is perhaps more exposed than Total Recall. He’s well worth his place in the field though.
Sunday looks a blockbuster day for you. Starting with the Hatton’s Grace, you must be excited to be getting the chance to ride Nichols Canyon?
He’s a little star. He’s only a handy horse and I’ve been fortunate to ride him a few times before. It’s a nice race to start him back in, although it won’t be easy taking on Apple’s Jade as she’s already had a run. Touch wood it’ll be a great ride for me and I’m really looking forward to him. Up until last year he wasn’t really getting the credit he deserved. His record speaks for itself and he’s a little fighter. He gives his all every day and that’s his main asset.
How much potential do you feel Royal Bond contender Makitorix has?
Potential is a good word for him. He was impressive when he won at Listowel but the second horse has been beaten again since. He won so impressively on soft ground that you have to view it positively, but this is a big step up for him. He does everything well at home and he seems a lovely horse, so he goes there with a good chance and a big reputation.
Rathvinden goes for the Drinmore Novice Chase. Do you feel he can make up for lost time?
He was a very good horse going back a couple of seasons. He had a bit of trouble since but fingers crossed he stays in one piece for the season. He’s done very well over fences and he was a Grade 1 horse in the past. He looks to have retained much of his ability so you’d have to be optimistic about his chances. I’m convinced we’ve not seen the best of him yet.
Talking of making up for lost time, how impressed were you by Faugheen’s comeback win?
It was unreal! I was as taken by it as anyone else. It was an unbelievable training performance from Willie. I know he used to bring Quevega back every year for Cheltenham off the back of nearly a year off, but to have the horse in such good shape after a break was incredible. He’ll improve for the run, don’t get me wrong, but he was in such good shape for that run it’s a credit to Willie and the team. He felt so, so good on the day.
Min looked good when winning on his return. What impression did he make on you?
It was his race to lose, but at the same time he had to go there and do it. He never came out of second gear and he gave himself a hard enough race as he was fresh early on. He galloped through the line and finished well so I was taken by the run. I thought his jumping was excellent and I liked him a lot. He didn’t seem to have any problems getting two-and-a-half miles so it opens up a lot more doors for him.
Sharjah also looks to have plenty of options. Did he feel as good as he looked the other day?
He was good. The race was run to suit me as we didn’t go quick early and he was able to use his Flat speed to get away from them. What impressed me was how, after he’d made a mistake at the third-last hurdle when the race was developing, he was straight back on the bridle to pick them up and them quicken by them again. He’s improving the whole time and I’m sure he will again.
We are all excited to see Douvan back in the Tingle Creek. What can you tell us about him?
Hopefully he’s back to his very best – he seems to be at home. Holly, who rides him out every day, has never been so happy with him, so that’s a good sign. He’s fresh and well in himself and he’s got the swagger back. What happened at Cheltenham doesn’t seem to have had any affect on him.
And, finally, are you feeling any pressure filling in for Ruby Walsh on all these big names?
I suppose if you didn’t feel a little bit of pressure then you’re in the wrong game. It’s excitement and pressure really. Faugheen was there for me to ride the day after Ruby got injured and he got over the line, so it was a good start. It’s purely pressure I put on myself – there’s not any from owners or trainers – but it’s always nice to get off to a good start. They are rides any jockey in the weighing room would give their right arm to have so I understand how fortunate I am to be in this position, and I’m grateful to the owners and Willie for trusting me to take the rides.