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Townend returns as title race hots up

Paul Townend, currently leading the race to be crowned Ireland's champion National Hunt jockey, returns to action at Ballinrobe today.

Townend, who replaced Ruby Walsh on a number of Willie Mullins' stable-stars throughout the season, has been out of action since fracturing his collarbone at Navan on March 26.

The 20-year-old jockey, who is five ahead of Davy Russell as he attempts to claim his first title, has high hopes of making it a winning return as he rides three for Mullins -- Rattan in the Western People Maiden Hurdle, Wee Giant in the Treacy's Pharmacy Hurdle and Killultagh Queen in the Roundfort Stores Beginners Chase.

Meanwhile, Charlie Swan fears Rajik may just need the run in today's Sagaro Stakes at Ascot.

The six-year-old improved out of all recognition last season, winning valuable events at Galway twice and at The Curragh before signing off for the season with a thoroughly creditable effort in the Irish St Leger, where he finished fourth to Sans Frontieres.

Swan hopes to run him in the Ascot Gold Cup in June and sees this as the ideal race to begin his season.

"This looks a nice race to start him off in but he's never won first time out before," said Swan yesterday. "I've got him as fit as I can but he often takes a run to get warmed up.

"He really improved last year. He was fourth in the Irish Leger but the ground was on the soft side for him that day so there is no danger on that score tomorrow.

"He stays really well, I think the trip will suit him and obviously this is a stepping stone towards the Ascot Gold Cup. I'm just hoping he's sharp enough.

"There aren't that many more suitable races before the Gold Cup. There's one at Leopardstown but we'll see. He might go straight there if he ran really well."

Elsewhere, Cape Blanco is expected to make his European return in Saturday's Prix Ganay at Longchamp.

After travelling from Ireland with very little time to acclimatise ahead of the Dubai World Cup, Cape Blanco ran most respectably to finish fourth, just a length behind Victoire Pisa.

A winner of the Irish Derby and Irish Champion Stakes last year, the Aidan O'Brien-trained chestnut was part-sold by Coolmore to the businessman Jim Hay.

"Hopefully I will be riding in the Prix Ganay on Saturday," said Jamie Spencer, Hay's retained jockey. "He's a very adaptable horse and, ground permitting, he should run."

Irish Independent