By EWN • 10 March 2023 • 9:15
While it might not include the frighteningly good Constitution Hill, as Nico de Boinville is the man tasked with guiding the soon-to-be Champion Hurdle winner over the obstacles at Prestbury Park, nobody will have a better book of rides at the 2023 renewal of the Cheltenham Festival than Paul Townend.
The 32-year-old Irishman has the pleasure of riding out of the famed Closutton as 88-time Festival-winning trainer Willie Mullins’ number one jockey and with that, of course, comes a whole host of winners each and every year.
Townend has 22 Festival victories to his name since 2015, including delivering Mullins his first wins in the Gold Cup and the Queen Mother Champion Chase, while he has won the Ruby Walsh Trophy twice since the man himself retired in 2019 — a title which the Irish native is expected to retain in the Cheltenham top jockey betting odds.
That said, read on as we take a look at four of Townend’s best rides as this year’s Festival rapidly approaches.
One of Townend’s and Mullins’ wealth of favourites that might prove good value for money, Facile Vega was odds-on for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle prior to the Dublin Racing Festival last month. However, he ran out of gas before the last in Leopardstown and came home last of the five runners who finished this race.
Whether or not that was just a bad ride or a chink in his armour beginning to show, it’s hard to turn your nose up at a Mullins favourite coming at around 3/1 to win the opening race of the meeting. He should have enough about to reverse the form and it would be a great start to the Festival for the punters should Facile Vega win the Supreme.
Energumene and Townend gifted Mullins his maiden Champion Chase crown 12 months ago and looked set to make it back-to-back titles in the day two feature after winning his next two outings at Punchestown and Cork.
However, he was beaten over course and distance in the rearranged Clarence House Chase here in Janaury by Editeur Du Gite and Edwardstone as he didn’t jump fluently at Cheltenham and blundered the last to give up too much ground on his rivals. With a better of jumping and he might be able to reverse the form.
With another beaten favourite last time out in the form of Lossiemouth, you might think we are not building the best case for Townend. But you could argue that he has learned more about the horses from those rides than he would have had he won easily as expected and the onus for the last month would have been on a plan to reverse the form at Prestbury Park.
Like the others, Lossiemouth has retained favouritism in the Triumph Hurdle despite coming second to Gala Marceau in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown and with a clearer run at Cheltenham she should be able to get her own back on her stablemate. Mullins boasts the top three in the betting with Lossiemouth, Gala Marceau and Blood Destiny.
Ok, a horse who actually managed to get the job done at the Dublin Racing Festival, Galopin Des Champs is the short-priced favourite for the Gold Cup as Townend looks to win his third renewal of the Blue Riband following dual success with Al Boum Photo.
The seven-year-old only has one blemish on his record over fences after falling upon landing at the last when well on course for a huge win in the Triumph Hurdle at Prestbury Park last year and he’s bounced back since then to win another three races on the trot, including the Irish Gold Cup. He needs to find an extra two furlongs or so, but that shouldn’t be an issue.
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