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Cheltenham Festival: Paul Townend profile

Paul Townend is the man in possession of the best job in jumps racing - number one rider at the Willie Mullins yard with access to some of the best horses in training.

It isn't an easy job, of course, and some of Townend's toughest choices can be when deciding which particular horse to partner when his boss fires multiple darts at the same major targets.

The Cork native will, though, always be known as the rider that ended Mullins' quest for a breakthrough Gold Cup winner at Cheltenham. He's 1/5 to be Top Jockey at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival and we are taking a closer look at Townend.

Gold Cup joy signals changing of the guard

Mullins is the all-time most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history and has dominated the meeting over the last decade like no-one has ever dared dream before.

Getting his hands on the Gold Cup proved no easy task however. Sir Des Champs, On His Own and Djakadam left the Closutton maestro having to settle for second in the Blue Riband in four successive years from 2013 onwards.

By 2019, Mullins' quest for glory in the sport's most prestigious race was even attracting the term 'hoodoo'.

That spring, he saddled Bellshill, Invitation Only, Kemboy and Al Boum Photo. Stable jockey Ruby Walsh went with Bellshill, who was pulled up, while David Mullins was on Kemboy - the shortest-price contender – and was unseated at the first.

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Al Boum Photo and Townend, meanwhile, came home strongly to win the Festival showpiece and end Mullins' quest for Gold Cup glory.

Whether it had any bearing or not, within a few short weeks Walsh would announce his retirement and Townend became the top man at Closutton - in the most enviable job in racing.

National Hunt racing takes over

Townend was originally an apprentice on the Flat but, having joined the team at Closutton early on, his future was soon geared towards riding over jumps.

He had the job as understudy to Walsh and was in a great position to learn from the very best. He had been crowned champion jockey in Ireland as early as 2010/11, breaking the monopoly of Walsh and Davy Russell, who between them landed every title from 2004/05 through until 2017/18.

Now, it is very much Townend's domain as he sits on the cusp of being crowned champion for the fifth year running.

His first Cheltenham Festival winner came in fortuitous and unforgettable fashion when Annie Power's final flight fall allowed Glens Melody win the 2015 Mares' Hurdle. That was a part of a treble in the Cotswolds that season as he won on Wicklow Brave for Mullins and Irish Cavalier for Rebecca Curtis.

Champion Chase breakthrough on Energumene

Last March, Townend broke down the only remaining barrier for his boss in the Cotswolds as he gave Mullins a first ever win the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Energumene.

That was one of his five Festival winners in 2022, a joint-best tally, and the second time in three years he'd been crowned leading rider at the meeting.

Energumene rates a 13/8 chance to retain his mantle as the best two-mile chaser around on 15th March, though he has to put a disappointing Clarence House Chase defeat behind him.

Townend has the favourite Galopin Des Champs at 11/8 to look forward to come the Gold Cup, while 14/1 Klassical Dream could be his mount in the Stayers' Hurdle on day three of the Cheltenham Festival.

Having helped Mullins to complete his set of the Championship races at the meeting with his wins on Al Boum Photo and Energumene, Townend has just one piece of the jigsaw missing himself - a Champion Hurdle.

The closest he has come was when Melon was second to Espoir D'allen in 2015. That was of course in the famous checked silks of Joe & Marie Donnelly and those will be donned once more come 14th March when 11/4 State Man bids to thwart the hot favourite Constitution Hill.

It would be quite some achievement from Townend should be capture all four of Cheltenham's crown jewels by the age of 32.

He's on 22 Festival winners already and, with perhaps another decade in front of him, he's sure to have plenty more. Whether he can get to Walsh's tally of 59 remains to be seen but it certainly wouldn't be a shock if Townend become only the second rider to reach a half century.

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