‘Succcess is like a drug’ –Willie Mullins is compared to Pep Guardiola as trainer hails jockey Paul Townend

Klassical Dream and jockey Paul Townend after winning the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle during day three of the Punchestown Festival© PA

Michael Verney

Everyone thought that Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh were racing’s dream team, but Paul Townend is making some effort at filling the boots of his illustrious predecessor in Closutton.

Mullins lobbed some criticism in Townend’s direction after an off-colour display on Facile Vega at the Dublin Racing Festival in February, but the Cork rider has reacted sensationally with some memorable steers.

Klassical Dream (3/1 joint-favourite) was Townend’s latest masterpiece in the saddle as he produced Mullins’ nine-year-old at the perfect time to plunder a third Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle in the process.

Townend displayed nerves of steel once again to hit the front late on before seeing off stablemate Asterion Forlonge (8/1) and the Gordon Elliott-trained Sire Du Berlais (7/1) to earn the highest of praise from his boss.

“What a ride!” Mullins beamed. “He was so cool on him, he was out the back watching the race unfold. The minute Klassical Dream got a bit of daylight, he just locked on and I thought, ‘Wow, this is it, Paul just has to deliver him at the right time’, and he’s doing that all year.”

Mullins hailed it as “a masterclass in riding” as the €300,000 showpiece fell his way and Klassical Dream will now head to Auteuil for the French Champion Hurdle next month, where he will be joined by Asterion Forlonge.

​“Townend sets the standard and that comes from who’s pushing you as a jockey too,” Walsh remarked of his successor. “You look at the young jockeys like Jordan Gainford, Sam Ewing and Michael O’Sullivan, it’s competition for places and they are pushing Paul and making him get to the level that he’s at.

“To be as good as he was on Galopin Des Champs, the Gold Cup favourite, to persevere for as long as he did on I Am Maximus in the Irish Grand National, but what he did on Klassical Dream was right up there with both of them.”

A bloodless success for Mullins’ brilliant El Fabiolo (1/4 favourite) in the Grade One Barberstown Castle Novice Chase was a stroll in the park for Townend in comparison as the six-year-old kept his unbeaten streak over fences when cruising home by 11 lengths.

A potential duel with stablemate Energumene, the dual Champion Chase winner, awaits next season after a faultless novice campaign.

“He looks all over a two-miler,” Mullins said. “He’s improving all the time, but the way he does things over two miles, he may stay at that. Paul is all the time pulling him back to keep the lid on him.”

Ballyburn (10/11 favourite) also enhanced his lofty reputation when streaking away in the closing bumper by six lengths under Mullins’ son Patrick to make it three wins from three career starts.

Dinoblue (11/4 favourite) continued Mullins’ bashing of the bookies, as well as completing his four-timer on the day, under Mark Walsh in the handicap chase as the Irish champion trainer’s head scout Harold Kirk compared his long-time ally to Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.

“It’s a pleasure to be part of the team, but it’s demanding and you can’t rest on your laurels because Willie won’t let anyone do that. It’s all about what’s going to happen in the future,” Kirk said.

“It’s the same with Pep Guardiola and Man City, he’s never talking about what’s happening now and Willie is the same. Those types of natural leaders are born like that.

“We have a phenomenal team and Willie is the head of the team. He’s a phenomenal leader. We never talk about what happened today, it’s always about tomorrow. Success really is a drug.”

The La Touche Cup Cross Country Chase, Ireland’s longest race where 35 obstacles are negotiated over a stamina-sapping 4m2f, saw Wexford trainer Richie O’Keeffe fulfil a lifelong dream by landing the famous banks race.

Vital Island (3/1) was touched off here on Tuesday, but Benny Walsh’s mount made no mistake this time around to repel Stealthy Tom 7/4 (favourite), much to the delight of the 39-year-old winning rider.

“My lad galloped all the way to the line and the minute he heard the other lad (Stealthy Tom) coming, he went on again. That’s the full set of wins in all Punchestown’s banks races now – it means absolutely everything to us,” Walsh said.

The Dempsey family also got in on the act when combining to take the opening handicap hurdle for the second year in a row as Luke steered Broomfield Bijou (6/1 favourite) home by a neck for his father Philip in a titanic finish with Elliott’s By Your Side (13/2). There was also success for UK raider Kilbeg King (12/1) as Aidan Coleman plundered the €50,000 handicap hurdle in style on Anthony Honeyball’s charge

The Roger Widger-trained Indie Belle (7/1) completed the winners in front of 17,783 spectators (down from 21,356 in 2022) as JJ Slevin continued his profitable week when romping home in the mares’ handicap chase by 15 lengths.