'I broke my T12 vertebrae. I had to get six screws and two rods put in' - Jody Townend's remarkable comeback at Galway Races
Up-and-coming amateur recovers from horrific spinal injury to land the feature race on day one for Mullins
Ladies' Day came early to the Galway festival when up-and-coming amateur jockey Jody Townend steered the Willie Mullins-trained Great White Shark to success in the feature of Day One, the €120,000 Connacht Hotel Handicap.
It marked Mullins' third successive success in the race with the five-year-old 8/1 shot getting the better of Dermot Weld's Dalton Highway.
However, what was even more remarkable was the journey Townend had travelled to get back in the saddle. The seven-pound claimer, who is a sister of champion jockey Paul, returned from a broken back just two months earlier that had required three separate operations.
"I'm only back about two months. I was about nine months on the sidelines so it's unreal to come back like this," she beamed in the parade ring afterwards.
"I broke my T12 vertebrae. I had to get six screws and two rods put in, and a stabiliser because the fracture was on my spinal cord.
"Then I was supposed to be back in February and when I came back riding out I got awful pains down one side. The back started weeping.
"I went back and they washed it out but that wasn't enough, so I had to go back for a third operation and they had to take all the metal out.
"But then the infection was after going into the bone at that stage, so I was on a drip for six weeks - but it's in the past now - I can forget about it.
"What a surprise - it's unbelievable. Some buzz!"
Trainer Willie Mullins hailed the performance of his young jockey with another of Mullins' runners, Mr Adjudicator, going off at 9/4 favourite but could only finish in fourth.
"It's fantastic for Jody, I think it was her first ride in the race; some guys wait all their life for a winner but Jody rode it like an old hand coming from off the pace," Mullins said.
"I just said to her see how you break and if you don't break well just wait and wait and come wide and keep out of trouble. And that's what she did, and once the mare started to pass a few horses the mare found that she was liking it and the two of them took off. Jody said she couldn't believe how well she was travelling."
There could be more success on the cards for lady jockeys this week in Ballybrit with Bryony Frost making the trip to ride in tomorrow's Galway Plate on Black Corton for Paul Nicholls.
Frost became the first female to claim a Grade One over jumps at the Cheltenham Festival when winning on Frodon in the Ryanair Chase back in March.
Elsewhere, Halimi claimed the penultimate race of the day, the Eventus Handicap, for Jim Bolger by half length from the Joseph O'Brien-trained Millswyn.
The final race of the day, the Monami Construction Flat Race, was claimed by the Emmet Mullins-trained Russian Diamond, which held off the charge of favourite Rick Factor in what proved to be a difficult opening day for the 20,397 punters in attendance with just two SP favourites getting home in front.