Cheltenham: Paul Townend shows great resolve as Allaho defends Ryanair Chase title

Jockey had earlier been thrown from Galopin Des Champs at final fence with victory in sight

Resilience is a prerequisite for any jump rider but Paul Townend’s durability was once again underlined within a dramatic 80 minutes at Cheltenham on Thursday.

Left desolate after one of the most incredible final fence falls in festival history from Galopin Des Champs in the opener, in a rollercoaster of emotions the champion jockey rallied within a couple of races to land the feature Ryanair Chase on Allaho.

The resolve required to bounce back can’t be underestimated either given the scale of the initial blow.

Galopin Des Champs' head-to-head with Bob Olinger in the Turners Novice Chase was billed as the showdown of the week and looked destined to have only one outcome as the Willie Mullins star overpowered his rival with a swashbuckling display from the front.

With victory in the bag, Townend set his mount at the final obstacle and the horse jumped it perfectly only to knuckle over on landing.

For a horrible moment it looked like Galopin Des Champs might have been injured but his limp was due to a loose rein getting caught up in his leg and he was unscathed.

Ultimately that might emerge as the best result of the week, since up to the mishap he had looked every inch the “very special horse” Mullins believes him to be.

Barely had Bob Olinger struggled up the hill for a hollow success than bookmakers were going as low as 3-1 about Galopin Des Champs for next year’s Gold Cup.

None of it was much consolation to Townend after finding himself at the centre of one of those notorious spills at the last that inevitably provoke venomous criticism from armchair jockeys.

Ruby Walsh's famous festival fall from Annie Power in 2015 still conjures noxious flak, while Jamie Moore's unseat from Goshen in the 2020 Triumph Hurdle will follow the jockey throughout his career.

If it played on Townend’s mind it didn’t show as he dusted himself a couple of races later to repeat the frontrunning tactics on Allaho who made all to win the Ryanair Chase for a second year in a row. He even survived a final-fence blunder.

“Earlier is done. Look, I’m okay and the horse [Galopin Des Champs] is okay. We have a good horse and I was lucky in those colours here a couple of years ago in the Triumph,” he said in reference to how it was Audrey Turley’s Burning Victory that benefited from Goshen’s mishap.

“I suppose it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow [but] what goes around comes around,” he added.

Such admirable perspective probably comes from having gone through worse.

It is four years since Townend's infamous 'run out' on Al Boum Photo at Punchestown. With the world watching his every move he came out the following day and rode a treble. Within a year he'd won a Gold Cup on the same horse.

“Paul is someone better with pressure. When there is someone leaning on his neck he excels and that is what I love about Paul, he doesn’t get flustered and he gets the job done. You wouldn’t think he has any nerves at all the way he jumped out in front in that race,” Mullins said after Allaho’s victory.

“He jumped from fence to fence and came down to the last as if it wasn’t there and that is a mark of a champion. I was a nervous wreck. Coming to the last I thought here we go again but he got over it and jumped it well. Paul has nerves of steel and I’m delighted he is on our side,” he added.

Almost overlooked in the midst of everything was a Grade One success for Bob Olinger although neither Rachael Blackmore or Henry De Bromhead could proclaim satisfaction with the performance.

Both reckoned the real Bob Olinger didn’t turn up for whatever reason, a valid point considering his comparatively stately progress up the hill.

“It was disappointing [the way he ran]. But, interestingly, Rachael said she wasn’t happy with him at all, so we’re going to get him looked into, which we would have had to do anyway if Galopin Des Champs had stood up,” said De Bromhead.

“We need to go and dig and see what is wrong with him, because he definitely didn’t look right.”

The three Grade One races on Thursday went to Irish horses but the surge in performance among the home team this week was emphasised by their scooping all four other prizes.

Townend's fellow Cork jockey Jonny Burke secured a first festival success in the mares' novice hurdle on board Love Envoi while Wexford man Tom O'Brien, runner-up in the Stayers' on Thyme Hill, put a seal on a memorable week with victory on Third Wind in the Pertemps.

O’Brien, a nephew of champion Flat trainer Aidan O’Brien, rode a winner at Exeter last Friday before dashing to be present for the birth of his second child.

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