Peter Mooney/INPHO Paul Townend on Concertista (green) jumping the last to beat Rachael Blackmore on Minella Melody at Fairyhouse in November.

Donn McClean: Expect fireworks as Townend and Blackmore do battle for jockey's title

There will be intriguing clashes all week at Punchestown between the pair of leading jockeys, and their amateur equivalents, beginning tomorrow.

EGALITY MANS WAS in front and travelling well in the Grade 2 Colm Quinn BMW Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse three weeks ago when he came down at the third last flight. It looked like an awkward fall. Power Of Pause was tracking the leader at the time, he had nowhere to go when his stable companion fell in front of him and he and Bryan Cooper were taken down too.

Paul Townend sustained a foot injury in the fall that put him on the sidelines. The Aintree Grand National meeting came and went without him, and the countdown to the Punchestown Festival began. In the meantime, Rachael Blackmore made history.

And away from mainstream’s spotlight, Rachael Blackmore got busy. She rode Somptueux to win a novices’ chase at Fairyhouse and reduced Paul Townend’s lead in the jockeys’ championship to nine. She won on Zoffanien at Ballinrobe and she won on Not Available at Kilbeggan, increased her total to 88 and reduced the lead to seven. It was still a long-looking lead, with just six National Hunt racing days left in the season. Then she went to Kilbeggan last Friday evening, rode a treble and got to within four.

paul-townend-on-echoes-in-rain-wins-the-paddy-kehoe-suspended-ceilings-novice-hurdle Morgan Treacy / INPHO Paul Townend on Echoes in Rain wins The Paddy Kehoe Suspended Ceilings Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse earlier this month. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

One week to go in the season, five fascinating days at Punchestown and, even as we stand now, both riders have had remarkable seasons. Rachael Blackmore has run the well of superlatives dry, six Cheltenham Festival winners catapulted her into mainstream, leading rider at Cheltenham, and a Grand National win that launched her into the stratosphere. Paul Townend has ridden 95 winners in Ireland so far this season, and he has ridden 10 Grade 1 winners. Monkfish and Chacun Pour Soi and Appreciate It and Energumene, and he is bidding for his third championship on the spin.

It wasn’t a huge surprise yesterday when declarations were made for the first day of the Punchestown Festival, and Paul Townend was down for rides: Blue Lord in the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle, Chacun Pour Soi in the William Hill Champion Chase, Monkfish in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase. You knew that there was a great chance that he would make it back to full fitness in time for Punchestown. You have seen his determination at play before, and you knew that he was going to do all that he could do in order to maximise his chances of holding onto his title.

A four-winner cushion would look like a sliver if you were sitting and watching from your sitting room.

It’s advantage Townend for sure, a lead of four and a deep, deep Willie Mullins Punchestown team, but Rachael Blackmore has the all-conquering Henry de Bromhead yard behind her, and you know that she will be going all out too.

rachael-blackmore-on-quilixios-comes-home-to-win Mark Cranham / INPHO Blackmore on Quilixios comes home to win the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. Mark Cranham / INPHO / INPHO

There will be some intriguing clashes between the pair of them. There is Monkfish v Envoi Allen tomorrow for starters, the first day of the Festival, with Townend on Monkfish and Blackmore on Envoi Allen. We thought that we might have to wait for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup to see these two horses take each other on, two of the most exciting novice chasers in training, but it’s going to happen tomorrow. Even without the jockeys’ championship thread, it’s enthralling.

An hour earlier, there’s Chacun Pour Soi v Allaho. Both horses are trained by Willie Mullins, of course, but, talented and all though Paul Townend is, he can still only ride one of them. The fact that Rachael Blackmore picks up the ride again on Allaho makes sense, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned horse whom she rode to that brilliant victory in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and it just adds another layer to the sub-plot.

It’s a fireworks start.

Those fireworks could continue through the week: Al Boum Photo and Energumene and Appreciate It and Concertista potentially for Townend, Honeysuckle and Bob Olinger and Telmesomethinggirl and Quilixios and Captain Guinness for Blackmore.

The amateur riders’ championship is even tighter. The battle between Patrick Mullins and Jamie Codd has been a seesaw all season really. Patrick Mullins’ lead of seven after the Dublin Racing Festival was whittled away to one by Jamie Codd by the time Aintree rolled around. Of course, Mullins’ exhilarating win on Livelovelaugh in the Topham Chase over the Grand National fences there doesn’t count in the Irish championship.

patrick-mullins-onboard-sharjah-after-winning Ryan Byrne / INPHO Patrick Mullins onboard Sharjah after winning the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Mullins had rides in bumpers at Fairyhouse, Limerick, Ballinrobe and Tramore last week, and he finished third on all four. Second on 1/5 shot Captain Kangaroo in a maiden hurdle at Limerick, second on 15/8 shot Buck’s Billionaire in a maiden hurdle at Kilbeggan. Codd rode Bronn to win the other bumper at Ballinrobe, and they were level, 43-43.

Jamie Codd won the first division of the maiden hurdle at Kilbeggan on Thursday on Mylestown Upper, and briefly led by one, before he was demoted to second place in the stewards’ room. Level again.

Patrick Mullins won the two bumpers at the end of that day on Never Feel Blue and Kottayam respectively, and went two clear. Jamie Codd went back to Kilbeggan the following evening, won the second division of the maiden hurdle on Buddy Rich and the mares’ beginners’ chase on Felicidad, and drew level again. 45-45.

jamie-codd-wins-on-ginto Morgan Treacy / INPHO Jamie Codd on Ginto winning The Flower Hill (Pro/Am) Flat Race at Navan in February. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

All square, and the amateur riders’ battle resumes at Punchestown tomorrow. Mullins on Echoes Of Rain in the Champion Novice Hurdle, Codd on Vital Island in the Fr Sean Breen Memorial Ladies Perpetual Cup. And then the bumpers: Mullins on Hemlock and Codd on Nonbinding in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper, Codd on Whatcoloristhewind and Mullins on Hara Kiri in the Irish Field four-year-olds’ bumper.

This is another battle that could rage all week.

– First published 13.48, 26 April

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