Paul Townend has won his battle to be fit for this week's Punchestown festival and is short odds to defeat Rachael Blackmore in the race to be champion jockey.
Blackmore has used the three weeks her rival has been out of action since injuring his foot at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday to narrow the gap in the title race to four winners (95-91.)
The tantalising prospect of an historic first riders’ championship for a woman when the season ends on Saturday is still open although bookmakers reckon Blackmore faces an uphill battle.
With the strength in depth of the Willie Mullins team behind him, Paddy Power rate Townend a 1-5 favourite to win the title for a third year running. His title rival is a 7-2 shot.
“Paul rode out yesterday and today. It’s great to have him back,” Mullins confirmed on Sunday.
Townend has been declared to ride for Mullins in Tuesday’s three Grade one contests including Monkfish in an intriguing clash with Envoi Allen in the Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase.
Having lost the ride on the Gold Cup hero Minella Indo to Jack Kennedy this week, Blackmore has got her own back on the Kerryman and replaces him on Envoi Allen on Tuesday.
She retains the ride on another Cheveley Park Stud owned star, Allaho, in the €250,000 William Hill Champion Chase.
Blackmore guided Allaho to a spectacular success in the Ryanair at Cheltenham and Townend’s call to ride Chacun Pouor Soi in Tuesday’s feature means she maintains the partnership.
The first of 11 Grade 1 races run over the five days of Punchestown will be the Ecomm Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle. In the absence of Appreciate It, Townend has opted for Blue Lord rather the other Mullins hope, Echoes In Rain.
Patrick Mullins, level with Jamie Codd in a duel for the amateur riders title on 45 winners each, rides Echoes In Rain.
Blackmore rides the outsider Uhtred in that race, one of five rides she has on Day 1 of the festival.
The first cross-channel runners of the week will be Nube Negra and First Flow in the Champion Chase.
A British ‘bubble’ similar to the conditions in place for Irish horses and staff at Cheltenham and Aintree will be in place this week.
It includes up to 20 stable staff being accommodated in a wing of the Killashee Hotel in Naas.
They cannot leave the hotel except to take a shuttle-bus to Punchestown where cross-channel trained horses will be stabled separately at the racetrack from Irish runners.
Up to a dozen British runners are expected to line up this week.
The restrictions applied due to Covid-19 under Punchestown’s elite status means a handful of different jockeys rooms will be in operation at the track.
British based riders will have their own room while home professionals and amateurs will be kept separate.
An Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board spokesman confirmed that Blackmore will have her own room since she was in action at Sandown on Saturday.
Male riders who have returned to Ireland having ridden in Britain recently will also be kept separate due to quarantine regulations.
Watering is continuing at Punchestown ahead of the near €3 million festival with ground conditions currently “good to yielding.”
The going on the cross-country course is good to firm, firm in places, although the take-off and landing sides of all obstacles are being watered and aggravated.
The dual-Grand National hero Tiger Roll, a triple cross-country winner at the Cheltenham festival, is entered for the first time in Thursday’s La Touche over a marathon four and a quarter miles.
Flat racing in nearby Naas takes place on Monday where the Listed Anglesey Lodge Woodlands Stakes takes centre-stage.
A total of 11 runners line up including the top-rated Make A Challenge.
His best form is on more testing conditions than will apply on Monday though and the recent impressive Cork winner Laugh A Minute had winning form on quick ground when trained by Roger Varian.
Ryan Moore has a handful of rides for Ballydoyle including Chief Little Hawk in the big race. He opens with a debut for Fancy Blue’s sister Contarelli Chapel in a maiden which also features Simply Glorious, a sister to US Navy Flag and Roly Poly.