Paul Townend looking forward to pick of Mullins’ Christmas treats
Former champion jockey believes Yorkhill will stay three miles on day three of Leopardstown
Paul Townend guides Faugheen over the last en route to an impressive victory in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Leopardstown last month. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Paul Townend has the enviable pick of Willie Mullins’s powerful Christmas squad and the former champion jockey can aim in particular at maintaining his 100 per cent record on the superstar pair of Faugheen and Yorkhill.
The man who will step in for the injured Ruby Walsh has a perfect one-from-one record on both horses who are among the likely leading lights for next week’s Leopardstown festival.
The injury which has ruled out Douvan – a horse who Townend is unbeaten on in three starts – from the Christmas action indicates how a lot can change in a week.
However the rider with probably the best No.2 job in racing can look forward to the sport’s top team of Grade One talent starting on St Stephen’s Day.
“There are a lot of good races and I’m in a good position this year. I can’t wait for Christmas dinner to be over and to get up to Leopardstown!” he said.
Mullins saddled a remarkable 22 winners from 50 runners during the four days of Leopardstown and Limerick last year and he is likely to be similarly strong again this Christmas, both numerically and in terms of quality.
Walsh’s misfortune in breaking his leg at Punchestown last month has presented his understudy with a series of outstanding opportunities in recent weeks and Townend has once again made the most of them.
The day after Walsh was injured, the Cork man teamed up with Faugheen for the first time and the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner was back to his imperious best with a spectacular Morgiana success.
Faugheen made all in his first start for 22 months and routed the high-class pair of Jezki and Swamp Fox. He is long odds-on to successfully follow up in next week’s Ryanair Hurdle.
“He’s just so good. Everything happens so simple. At Punchestown I couldn’t believe the feeling, and then when I gave him a squeeze, what was left there,” Townend said.
“Swamp Fox in those competitive handicaps goes a proper gallop. Speaking to David [Mullins] afterwards he said even after jumping two or three hurdles Swamp Fox just wasn’t in his comfort zone. And I felt like I was doing a half-speed in front of him. That’s the difference between a good one and a very, very good one,” he added.
Apart from one defeat in the 2015 Morgiana, Faugheen’s career has been straightforward, something that can hardly be said for Yorkhill who will return to action in the €150,000 Christmas Chase on day three of Leopardstown.
Townend experienced the rare combination of brilliance and quirkiness Yorkhill possesses when he won the 2016 Mersey Hurdle on him at Aintree.
However the most recent memory the racing public has of the dual-Cheltenham festival winner was when he threw away victory in last Easter’s Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse by continually, and often alarmingly, lurching to his left.
Yorkhill is set to tackle three miles for the first time in his racecourse career at Leopardstown and, while he will represent quite a challenge for the 2010-11 champion jockey, one thing Townend doesn’t believe he’ll have to worry about is stamina.
“His pedigree suggests he’ll stay and to ride him he should stay,” he maintained ahead of a potentially mouth-watering Christmas clash with the Gold Cup winner, Sizing John.
“It won’t be easy for him but he has so much raw ability though. If we can get him into a good headspace that day he definitely has the ability. But it will be tough taking on race-fit horses for his first start of the season.
“He is a quirky one. You’d want to ask him that morning if he’s going to go or not, or if he’s going to stay or not!” Townend added.