Townend aims to steer Un De Sceaux to historic Ascot hat-trick
Gordon Elliott could pass €3 million prizemoney mark for season this weekend
Paul Townend: he will hope for better fortune than his only previous ride on Un De Sceaux. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Paul Townend has the job of steering Un De Sceaux towards a potentially historic Grade One hat-trick at Ascot on Saturday, and will hope for better fortune than his only previous ride on Willie Mullins’s flamboyant star.
That came at the end of the 2016 season when Un De Sceaux found Sprinter Sacre too good in Sandown’s Celebration Chase after making a series of jumping errors through the race.
Ruby Walsh is Un De Sceaux’s regular rider, and guided the front-runner to success in the Clarence House Chase in both 2016 and last year, when the race was switched to Cheltenham. No horse has ever won the extended two-mile event on three occasions.
The only other jockeys to ride Un De Sceaux since he came to Mullins are Barry Geraghty, who rode him to win at Auteuil in 2014, and David Mullins, who landed the Hilly Way Chase last month.
With Walsh on the injury sidelines, Townend gets another chance to win on the hugely popular 10-year-old who is odds on to beat just four opponents headed by the novice Brain Power.
His great rival Gordon Elliott has 20 runners between Navan and Thurles on Sunday, and needs to secure just over €51,000 in prizemoney to pass the €3 million mark for the season in Ireland.
Elliott looks to have impressive ammunition at Thurles in particular, where he is favoured to complete a Graded race double courtesy of A Toi Phil and Dinaria Des Obeaux.
The latter’s chance in a Christmas Grade One disappeared when she was badly hampered by the fallen Monalee in a race eventually won by her stable companion Shattered Love. The age allowance can swing Sunday’s Grade Two feature her way, while A Toi Phil’s 155 rating gives him a clear edge in the Grade Three Kinloch Brae.
Elliott and jockey Jack Kennedy can also hit the score-sheet courtesy of Pete So High and Cubomania who could make it three from three for his new trainer in a handicap hurdle.
Foxrock has been made a 7-1 favourite by one firm for Cheltenham’s Foxhunters, and returns to action in the Thurles finale. It will be his first start for Alan Fleming, although Katie Walsh is still on board.
Other former big race winners Gilgamboa and My Murphy are in opposition but it is their younger rival Venitien de Mai who can ultimately emerge on top.