Townend woe throws title race wide open
On February 23, 1999, Tony McCoy was rushed to hospital after a fall at Ludlow, and there was a fear that the then three-time champion jockey had been seriously hurt.
As we drove out of the track that evening, Norman Williamson turned to me and said, in the understated manner of a jockey concerned for his colleague but aware of the implications of an injured McCoy: "Hey, there might be a title there to be won."
As it turned out, McCoy was back riding three days later, and still we await a new champion across the water.
The nature of sport, though, is that one man's loss is another man's gain, and you wonder if Paul Carberry and Andrew McNamara were thinking along the same lines as Williamson did 12 years ago when they left Navan on Saturday.
Championship leader Paul Townend departed the track with a fractured collarbone, and Davy Russell endured a similar injury to his hand at Thurles on Thursday.
Carberry is 15 behind Townend, McNamara 16, and all of a sudden everything is to play for. The Irish Grand National meeting in four weeks' time is the earliest that Townend is expected to return. That gives Carberry and McNamara a window of at least 12 meetings to exploit in his absence.
But over the past two months, Carberry has ridden six winners, McNamara just five. Townend and Russell have amassed 23 and 20, so what happens while they are out of commission will be critical.
Russell may well be the one rubbing his hands -- or his good one at any rate -- at the sniff of a reprieve. In a season of twists and turns, he has been laid up on four occasions. When Ruby Walsh broke his leg back in November, there was a suspicion that Russell, the championship runner-up four times and 21 off the pace at the time, would be the man to beat.
Sure enough, he mounted a serious challenge, but then Willie Mullins declared his full support for Townend, and Russell suffered his latest break on Thursday. With a gap of nine, the game looked up. Now, you just couldn't be sure.
Russell is confident that he will be back riding in a fortnight, which would give him a two-week head start on Townend.
His plan is to ride Becausicouldntsee in the Aintree Grand National but, if the Gigginstown team and Solwhit skip Liverpool, might Russell be tempted to do the same? After all, he could ride in five races at Tramore the same day. Decisions, decisions ...