Paul Townend happy to sit tight

He is acknowledged as one of the most talented riders in jump racing, in demand on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Paul Townend happy to sit tight

At 25, he is a former Irish champion and, having won his first Grade One as an 18-year-old, has brought that tally to 29.

Given his youth and remembering that AP McCoy finished at 40 years of age with 84 top-flight successes, that is a considerable tally.

He registered three Cheltenham winners last year to bring his total for the Festival to four.

And he’s not even the main man in his yard.

It’s a strange dynamic for Paul Townend but one he is familiar with now and can handle.

A competitor, he would prefer to be in Ruby Walsh’s shoes but the Irish Examiner columnist was connected to the Willie Mullins yard first and happens to be one of the best jump jockeys the world has ever seen.

It is the strength of the Mullins arsenal that has prevented Townend from moving on.

His book of rides for next week remains unconfirmed as he plays the waiting game.

It is only when Walsh chooses from the riches at his disposal that the picture will become clearer.

The Midleton man was reared in racing.

His father Tim always had a few point-to-pointers, his uncle Bob was a jockey and his grandfather Kevin Healy trained.

Davy Condon is his first cousin and provided the window to stardom.

“He got me into Willie’s first day,” reveals Townend.

“It made it a lot easier probably, leaving school going to Willie’s with Davy there as well.”

Condon retired at 30 years old last April, having suffered a recurrence of an old spinal injury in a fall. He was lucky to be able to walk away from one of the most dangerous sports around.

Riders are cognisant of the hazards but cannot allow them a place in their minds.

So when Condon was in trouble after his Aintree Grand National spill, it shook his cousin up.

“It’s not on your mind. You just have to put the head down.

“Nobody thinks it’s going to happen to them.

“I remember when Davy got the fall in Aintree, I went to the hospital with him afterwards. It was a fair eye-opener now and a big shock to me.

“I had three or four rides in Ffos Las the next day. It just doesn’t cross your mind again when you go out to race. It can’t.”

His rise made meteors appear lethargic but being 19 when he was being crowned champion jockey, he didn’t think too much about it.

“I was probably naive and I didn’t feel any pressure in riding such big horses. I had only had a handful of rides over fences and I won a beginners’ (chase) on Cooldine, and he had such a big reputation. But I didn’t realise the opportunity or the pressure that was going with it. I wasn’t feeling it.

“Everything was just happening for me. It was probably a help that I was younger.”

It was bananas really. The first Grade One came in the Royal Bond Hurdle, on a horse also starting to make a name for himself before cementing his place in the annals as a world-record winner of top-flight races.

The incongruity of it all isn’t lost on the East Cork pilot.

“‘What are you doing on Sunday?’ ‘Just riding a Grade One there on Hurricane Fly!’

“I was very lucky the way things fell for me. Davy and Richie Kiely were ahead of me when Ruby got hurt. Davy went to England and Richie went back amateur and suddenly I was next in line.”

Sure, he would love to have the pick of the bunch but there are few jobs out there better than being second jockey in Closutton, if any.

The Gigginstown and JP McManus gigs currently held by Bryan Cooper and Barry Geraghty are the only contenders on these shores.

So it pays to be patient. And he will have to be.

“I never know early. Ruby leaves it as late as possible and I don’t blame him for that because anything can happen. I just have to wait until he nails his colours to the mast. Sometimes I have to make a choice myself because Willie might have three or four runners. And it’s not easy, because Willie’s second string would be a star in most other yards.

“Ruby rarely gets them wrong… still, you know you’ll have a good chance.”

To illustrate the latter point, two of his winners last year were Mullins second strings (Glens Melody and Wicklow Brave).

If he could repeat that this year in the Gold Cup, it would take a long time for the smile to leave his face.

Whoever’s left after the decisions made by Walsh (Djakadam and Vautour) and maybe even Cooper (Don Poli and Valseur Lido are Mullins-trained horses owned by Gigginstown, who also have Don Cossack as a live contender), he will have a real chance of winning the most important race in jump racing.

“I nearly wish the race was on Tuesday because it’s a long time to wait. Whatever Ruby goes for, I am still going to have a very exciting ride. And then there’s what Bryan might pick as well.

“Valseur Lido seems very underrated to me if he runs. Gigginstown might have their own plans but with the two Ricci(-owned) horses, there is plenty to be excited about.

“They are completely different horses. I would have a lot of time for Djakadam. I rode him to win his maiden hurdle and he’s a good strong stayer.

“Vautour would be the classier horse but they’re the differences that make the race so exciting.”

Today’s Champion Hurdle provides another window of opportunity.

As Walsh, predictably, has opted for favourite Annie Power, Townend will ride Nichols Canyon.

A multiple Grade One winner, Nichols Canyon needs to bounce back from a rare disappointing run in the Irish Champion Hurdle but he is certainly a leading contender in an open renewal.

Townend will also probably pick up a few spares from outside the Mullins camp if available.

Last year, he won on Irish Cavalier for Rebecca Curtis and has been used regularly this season by the Welsh trainer. It is an experience he has relished.

“It’s good to get to know the other tracks, just to get used to them.

“There’s a different style of racing over there and it would have to stand to you.

“In Ireland, they tend to just tip away for the first half of the race and then race home, whereas in England you jump off and maintain a gallop.

“The best horse normally wins in England whereas in Ireland it can be very tafgctical.”

But Closutton is his “bread and butter” and while he jokes that he will probably be retired before Walsh, he is willing to play the long game.

“Sure you have to. Willie is getting bigger every year. I couldn’t make any sense of walking away.”

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