The OLBG Mares’ Hurdle was the one that got away for Ruby Walsh, but not for trainer Willie Mullins or Midleton jockey Paul Townend, who, along with Glens Melody, was on hand to pick up the pieces when Annie Power and her partner departed at the final flight.
Townend, understudy to Walsh in Closutton, has made a successful career stepping into the boots of Walsh, the 2010/11 former champion jockey proving a more-than-able deputy for many years.
This time, however, he looked set to settle for the understudy’s role once more, until fate intervened.
“It’s often the case that I’m picking up what Ruby leaves behind but this wasn’t the nicest way to get a winner, with Ruby falling at the last on another one of Willie’s. But they’re okay, so we’ll take it either way,” Townend said.
“She travelled well into the race, and she deserved it because she went so close last year. Fair play to her owner for keeping her in training — it paid off.
“When Annie Power fell, she put down her head and battled well. It was on the nod of a head, but thankfully we came out on the right side of it.”
Townend may have to play second fiddle to Walsh but it’s a role he more than willing to play.
“It’s great to be part of it — Willie has a great team. We’re in Willie’s six mornings a week and to repay him by riding a winner for him is important because he has looked after me since I started riding.
“He’s put me up on everything he can, and it’s nice to ride a winner for him. I’m very happy where I am.”
Townend’s day got even better little over an hour later as Irish Cavalier, trained by Rebecca Curtis, won the day’s final race, the CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices’ Handicap Chase.
The Mullins camp weren’t the only ones celebrating as the Cheltenham management reported a new record attendance for Champion Hurdle day with 63,249 people passing through the gates.
That total represents an increase of 6,166 on last year.
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