Wednesday 25 April 2018

Townend Eye on Big Picture

Have saddle will travel is very much the motto of Paul Townend
Have saddle will travel is very much the motto of Paul Townend
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

A casual observer might glance at this afternoon's Clonmel spread and conclude that Paul Townend's situation has deteriorated lamentably.

If you were tuning in for the first time since Ruby Walsh quit the plum gig as Paul Nicholls' stable jockey back in May, you'd see Townend's two booked mounts and wonder. He rides a mare called Kala Brandy for his father Tim and the nine-year-old Castle Anshan for another long-standing supporter, the shrewd Terence O'Brien.

Both are relatively modest sorts owned by their respective handlers. Willie Mullins has three runners, all likely favourites, with son Patrick pencilled in for two and Walsh for one.

Could this really be the new norm for a talent so precocious that he was crowned champion at 20 years of age in 2011?

REVEALING

The answer in Townend's case is revealing, for all the right reasons. He admits that he had concerns after Walsh decided to put all his eggs in Mullins' basket during the summer, only for the champion trainer to reassure him.

"When Ruby made the decision, I realised it was going to cost me rides," the Midleton-born rider says. "But I had a chat with Willie and he said that there are a lot of horses in the yard and that he'd look after me as best he could.

"With the firepower Willie has, it would be madness to go anywhere else. He has a lot of big owners spending big money on horses and they all want to see them running. There's been plenty for both of us, so I am happy. I'll just keep the head down and see what happens."

What has happened so far has been typical of a rider who has earned a reputation for taking every chance that comes his way since bursting on to the scene with the sort of cool steer that has become his trademark when guiding Indian Pace to 2008 Galway Hurdle glory at just 17 years of age.

He has bagged 28 winners, just nine fewer than at the same point in 2012 en route to filling third behind Davy Russell and Walsh in the riders' championship.

When Walsh opted for Newbury on Saturday, Townend enjoyed a double at Fairyhouse, and when decent cards at Cork and Punchestown clashed last month, he departed his local venue with four, two of which were for Mullins.

The same double-header occurs this Sunday, with a fine programme at the Mallow track attracting some high-class Closutton entries

The Champion Bumper hero Briar Hill or fellow exciting novices Faugheen and Rathvinden could yet form part of his book, while Twinlight would be a formidable spin in the showpiece Hilly Way Chase. If Townend has to live off scraps, he won't go hungry on those.

"I don't know what Willie will run there but hopefully he will send one or two with a chance of winning, if that's where I'm going," the 23-year-old says. "There are a lot of nice horses in there that have done everything well so far.

"I'll struggle to ride four winners like I did the last time, but it makes it easier for every rider when there are two meetings on. I got two nice spare rides there the last day – there is that chance you'll get on one that you mightn't otherwise. It will be the same when Christmas comes around with a couple of meetings on every day. That suits everyone better."

Townend got many of his early opportunities when Mullins trusted him with big-race mounts if Walsh was elsewhere or injured. Still, he has also ridden five Grade One winners when Walsh has simply chosen wrongly, Glens Melody's triumph at Punchestown in April the most recent of the quintet after Walsh preferred Tarla.

The fact that Walsh is capable of calling it wrong – however infrequently – is another cause for optimism when there is so much heavy artillery among Mullins' auxiliaries.

"Even on Sunday at Fairyhouse, Ruby picked the wrong one in the Royal Bond (Townend excelled from the front to be second on Renetti, with Walsh finishing last of the three Mullins runners in fourth aboard Alonso), so he isn't always going to get it right," he explains.

"He can't ride them all, so hopefully one or two might fall my way when he gets it wrong."

For someone with Townend's undisputed ambition and rare ability, such a scenario might seem destined to ultimately prove inadequate. Fact is, though, the role of Walsh's deputy right now is far more attractive and lucrative than most other stable jockey positions.

There will be more sparse days like today, but Townend is keeping an eye on the big picture. He will get his chances and, when he does, there are few better equipped to take them.

Anyone who hasn't just dropped out of the sky will know that's the full truth.

Irish Independent

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