Paul Townend: 'To win a championship race here is very special'

Jockey Paul Townend celebrates after steering Penhill to victory. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Life as a hurdler hasn’t been plain sailing for former high-class Flat horse Penhill, but the seven-year-old has a happy knack of producing the goods on the days that matter.

Last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner added the Stayers’ Hurdle to his CV when making a winning seasonal debut in yesterday’s feature.

Winner of his maiden at Tramore, he bled when disappointing at Killarney before bouncing back to win at the Galway Festival in 2016. His track appearances are few and far between, and last year’s success at this meeting came off a short break, but that paled in comparison to this success, 323 days after his last appearance on a racetrack.

The burly gelding travelled stylishly from the outset, and readily moved into contention around the outside of the field, under a confident ride from Midleton jockey Paul Townend.

Most of the runners were still being in contention jumping the second-last, but Penhill, on the wide outside, was travelling as well as any.

Fellow Irish raider Supasundae was supposed to struggle in the conditions, but he ran his heart out and it was only in the final 50 yards that Penhill forged ahead for victory. “He must have some engine,” said winning trainer Willie Mullins, who won the race in 2017 with Nichols Canyon.

“I could not believe it watching Paul come down the outside and I thought wow if he fluffs the last then he could blow up and fall in a hole. But he met the last perfectly and then I thought Supasundae would out-gallop him but he kept on powerfully. It is fantastic for (owner) Tony Bloom.

“A lot of credit has to go to Holly Conte who leads him up, rides him out, and does everything with him. She has virtually trained this horse herself. She minds him because he is fairly fragile.

“He has had lots of niggles which needed tending and that’s why we missed the Flat season. I would like to put him away now for Cheltenham next year. I don’t know what will happen when I say that to connections, but he is not suited to training for the Flat.

“I was hoping to get a run into him but coming here without a prep race to win a championship race is a huge achievement to the horse.”

It was a first win of the meeting for Townend, who was just touched off in the Champion Hurdle and also second in the Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase. He would later complete a double aboard Laurina, in the mares’ novice hurdle.

“It was very similar to when he won the Albert Bartlett here last year,” said the winning rider.

“He was understandably a bit rusty and fresh early on so that’s why I dropped him out.

We didn’t go as fast as I’d anticipated early on and I was able to hang on and hang on. I stuck to the plan of last year but was probably there two furlongs too soon. It is an unbelievable training performance, but it isn’t the first time he has done it. He is a genius.

Of previous results this week, he admitted: “It has been a frustrating couple of days. I suppose I am very lucky to ride for the people I do as when it goes wrong we put it behind us and move on to the next race. I am just relieved. To win a championship race here is very special.”

Jessica Harrington went agonisingly to completing the full set of championship races but was understandably delighted with the performance of Supasundae.

“The ground, I think, just caught him out in the last 100 yards,” Harrington said. “That is the best he has ever run on that ground. He has improved an awful lot this year — he has come on stones to tell you the truth.

“He doesn’t look like he has had a hard race, he is quite perky in himself. There is Aintree and Punchestown, but we will see how he is when we get home. I am absolutely thrilled with him.”

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