Above: Jockey Paul Townend won on Next Destination less than 24 hours after being the villain of the piece in one of the most dramatic occurences in racing history
Day One of the Punchestown Festival provided one of the most bizarre incidents seen on a racecourse for many a long year, and Willie Mullins’ current No.1 jockey Paul Townend was comprehensively the villain of the piece.
Quite what went through Townend’s mind as he approached the final fence of the valuable Grade 1 Growise Champion Novice Chase, we may never know. Riding Al Boum Photo and with the prestigious race seemingly his for the taking, the vastly experienced high-class rider suddenly tugged on the right rein and directed his mount away from the fence. They crashed out through the wing, taking the unfortunate Finian’s Oscar with them, leaving the race on a plate for outside The Storyteller to lead home a 1-2-3 for trainer Gordon Elliott.
Ironically, it was a fall from the hapless Al Boum Photo at the Cheltenham Festival last month that sidelined Mullins’ long-time stable jockey Ruby Walsh and gave Townend the chance to step up for this, and a host of other big rides. Townend later suggested he heard a shout telling him to go around the fence [for safety reasons], and subsequently offered a full apology saying it was simply human error and “a genuine mistake”.
With Elliott leading the race for the trainers’ championship, this sudden and bizarre swing in his favour could make the difference beaten victory and defeat in the gripping head-to-head fight with current 10-times champion, Willie Mullins.
Punters who backed Al Boum Photo were understandably livid, the Punchestown stewards suspended Townend for 21 days for dangerous riding, and Mullins was left speechless, eventually pronouncing in his trademark understated fashion, “Nobody died.”
Less than 24 hours later, and with the eyes of the racing world on him, Townend somehow managed to put out of his mind the disaster of the previous day as he rode a fine treble, initiated by 11/4 shot Pravalaguna – one of an amazing six winners on the day for Mullins who stormed back into the lead in the trainers championships with just three days to go.
Townend went on to ride a tremendous race on Mullins’ Next Destination, forcing the 5/4 favourite home by just a neck from Elliott’s Delta Work in the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle, then repeated the feat in driving home Patricks Park (11/2) to another neck victory in the Guinness Handicap Chase.
The biggest success of the day though for Mullins came when the Andrea and Grahamn Wylie-owned (ridden by David Mullins) – recommended in our Betting.net ante-post preview for the meeting at odds of 5/1 – got the better of his gallant stable companion Djakadam in the Grade 1 Coral Punchestown Gold Cup.
And today, Paul Townend may further redeem himself when he partners Cheltenham Festival Stayers’ Hurdle hero Penhill in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers’ Hurdle, for which he is a top priced 2/1 with bet365. Following Tuesday’s debacle, what a difference a day made!