Despite his current injury, Paul Townend looks good for a fourth jockeys title


The excitement that short evenings bring to a National Hunt jockey is unique. As an ordinary person, I dread them now, as my love of rain has swapped places with my hatred of the sun. Everything winter entails is what I lived for but, Christmas aside, I’m already looking forward to spring.

The excitement at the dawn of autumn in August – yes, that’s when it officially begins – and Willie Mullins’ yard filled with fat, tanned horses was always exciting. It always does, but it always brings fear too. Who, what or when would bad news arrive?

Closutton’s high-profile early season starter this season is Anglerfish. Last season’s top novice fighter, a two-time Cheltenham Festival winner and out-of-the-box Gold Cup contender, hasn’t even been on Willie Mullins’ stable tour.

It doesn’t matter who you are or the size of the team you lead, a star like him disappearing for a season is a blow. It’s a blow to its owner, Rich Ricci, who has also retired stable high performer Min, meaning two big names have disappeared from his roster. It’s the National Hunt race, one injured but on the mend, the other going for as good a retirement as he’s had a career.

Paul Townend’s injury at Listowel will have almost ended his week. The loss of a Gold Cup contender like Monkfish will have hurt him too, and six or eight weeks away is something he could have done without as he will think about his place in the Jockeys Championship.

Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy have returned to action but already seem too far off the pace. The rumor mill has Rachael Blackmore’s recovery on track, but no date has leaked out when it might be and, especially for Paul, when she does return she will affect point guard Darragh O’Keeffe.

He leads Paul by nine, with a score of 31, to conditional sensation Jordan Gainford’s 26, Paul and Rachel both on 22, each just one ahead of Danny Mullins on 21, who is due back very soon, and Shane Fitzgerald on the same note.

It’s been a while since two conditional jockeys racked up results like this so quickly, but the distribution of winners is amazing. One in 30, seven with 20 or more, and 13 in double digits are 20 jockeys enjoying decent summer seasons.

I I don’t remember such a title run five months into a season, but injuries played their part for all the main contenders. That said, someone near the top will need to have 50 on the board before Paul comes back to hold him off, and I don’t see that happening.

He won’t believe it. No one in his position ever does, but he will only need average luck to retain his crown from a return date in mid-November.

Listowel is almost done, and what a joy it was to be there with excited and enthusiastic spectators. Two thousand times a day when you’ve gotten used to no one feeling much, especially with the noise and atmosphere they generate.

The eerie silence replaced by applause and cheers was so welcome, and looking back at all the successes of the past 20 months, you realized what people had been missing.

At best, a few hundred have witnessed all the great moments in Irish racing in recent times, but you can see for real what those successes mean.

None of them were swept back into a winner’s crease on a wave of noise or passed the post to raucous applause. No one was bombarded with congratulations as they left a booth or jumped and danced with their friends while waiting to greet their winner.

No, the joy on every Irish face for so long has been just pride, the joy of personal achievement and the thrilling shock of winning. We have witnessed what it means and not just the atmosphere people can feel.

These victories are no more and no less, just as they always have been. It was unique for everyone involved, but it got me thinking when Shane Fitzgerald was applauded away from the TG4 interview area as a true hero to those around him after his victory aboard Assemble in the Kerry National.

It was a noise alien to racetracks for so long, a noise that could and should have been granted to so many people who achieved notable firsts during the Covid lockdown.

The noise that almost makes you blush when you realize noise is for you. It’s a peculiar noise that only a few hear, and Covid has robbed people of far worse things, but hopefully anyone who missed out gets their chance again now that normal is back.


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