Top jockeys at the top of their form

Paul Townend four winners, Ruby Walsh three and Rachael Blackmore two, the fascinating characters who largely dominated last Sunday’s racing in Ireland - at Punchestown and Cork, writes Pat Keane.

Top jockeys at the top of their form

Paul Townend four winners, Ruby Walsh three and Rachael Blackmore two, the fascinating characters who largely dominated last Sunday’s racing in Ireland - at Punchestown and Cork, writes Pat Keane.

Let’s start with Townend, who seems to have been around forever, seems to have been with Willie Mullins forever, second jockey to the champion trainer, behind Walsh, if not quite forever, at least for a very long time, and himself crowned champion jockey back in 2011.

But, remarkably, he’s still only 28 years-of-age and, assuming he remains free from serious injury, undoubtedly has the best part of his career ahead of him.

Townend may be number two in the Mullins camp for longer than he cares to remember, but still has one of the best jobs in National Hunt racing. There is more than enough for everyone in this monster yard.

Ted Walsh has been telling me for a while now just how good a rider Townend is, but must confess I was only half-listening.

Of course, I’ve been well aware he’s a talented pilot, but didn’t quite see him in the top league. That probably has a lot more to do with shortcomings on my part, rather than anything to do with pilot.

But recently, I have just started to view him in the Walsh (Ruby)-Russell category. He makes very few mistakes, seems to always be in the right place at the right time and is riding at the top of his game.

He went to Cork last Sunday and had four winners, Maze Runner, Come To Me, Castlegrace Paddy, and Camelia De Cotte. It would have been five if Townend’s mount, Eight And Bob, wasn’t mugged in the dying strides by Ronald Pump in a handicap hurdle.

He enjoyed a couple of steering jobs, but was particularly good aboard Maze Runner in a three-year-old hurdle. In a contest where less than two lengths covered the first five home, Townend was seen to great effect in the closing stages.

All the smart comments about Ruby Walsh are no more and he was right back to his very best at Punchestown.

You can see the confidence returning and, whether over fences or flights, he is meeting obstacles on perfect strides, something he wasn’t always doing when initially returning from injury.

Walsh was superb in guiding Min to success in the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.

Min likes to get on with things and raced keenly, but Walsh managed to anchor him behind the pace and the seven-year-old found enough to score comfortably enough in the end.

And then there’s Blackmore, who rode two winners on the competitive Punchestown card. She is really a rags-to-riches story.

It is surely no exaggeration to say she went unnoticed, at least to the vast majority of us, as an amateur, both in point-to-points and bumpers.

If you are not catching the eye in those two disciplines then logic would dictate your prospects of carving out a successful career as a professional are essentially nil.

When Blackmore turned pro on March 16, 2015 we didn’t take the mildest interest in the story.

It was almost six months, September 3 to be precise, before she had her first success in the paid ranks when Most Honourable scrambled to a short head win at Clonmel.

The progress, however, Blackmore has made in the meantime has been sensational. She has been well supported by many people, but the backing of Gigginstown and Henry de Bromhead this season has been crucial.

That Blackmore remains in contention to be champion jockey in December is astonishing. It is unlikely she will be ahead come the end of the Punchestown Festival, the first week in May, but that doesn’t matter, she is already a winner.

THERE is no doubt Willie Mullins will again be champion trainer this season. He is already well clear of Gordon Elliott and, right now, just has better material overall than his main rival.

But there are little signs that the changing of the guard might not be miles away.

I think it is fair to say we have not seen any potentially top-class horses unveiled in bumpers so far this campaign by Mullins. But the trainer’s patience is legendary and it might not pay to place too much credence on that.

Nevertheless, in contrast, Elliott’s bumper horses have been flying and, by my reckoning, he has won eight such races since early November.

These are youngsters that have yet to capture the public’s imagination, but there have been some especially promising types among them.

They are led by Malone Road, who is unbeaten in two bumpers, at Down Royal and then Punchestown, having begun life by landing a maiden point-to-point at Loughanmore back in March.

Then there is Column Of Fire, who made no more than a reasonable start when runner-up behind stable companion, Commander Of Fleet, at Punchestown in April.

He does, however, seem to have gone forward big-time since, taking his bumper by 13 lengths at Navan on November 11.

Column Of Fire made his debut over jumps in a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse two weeks ago and finished third behind Joseph O’Brien’s Lone Wolf and Willie Mullins’ Defy De Mee.

There was plenty to admire in the way he stuck to his task at the end of that two and a quarter-miles, so we will want to be with him in the two and a half-mile maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse today.

A third Elliott inmate worth noting is Envoi Allen, winner of his only point-to-point, by ten lengths, at Ballinaboola in early February.

He made his racecourse debut at Fairyhouse 13 days ago and arrived with a massive reputation, going off at 4-9.

Envoi Allen justified the hype alright, stretching away by four lengths, after looking to be in a spot of trouble early in the straight. He makes a quick reappearance, with obvious claims, in the Listed winners’ bumper at Navan tomorrow.

SHATTERED Love is a bit of a heartbreaker, despite the fact she has won no less than nine times on the track and is one from one in the point-to-point fields

But she has been second on six occasions and sometimes just falls short in the best of company.

The John Durkan at Punchestown on Sunday was her latest ‘failure.’’ She ran her heart out, but wasn’t able to cope with the speed of Min and was beaten a length and a half into second.

Two and a half miles, on a decent surface, just didn’t play to her strengths, but I am convinced there is at least one major day in her.

Shattered Love needs three miles and ground that is soft, or worse, and then we’ll be in business!

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