RacingWeekend Preview

Paul Townend facing meagre weekend to team up with We’llhavewan in Punchestown feature

Champion jockey still odds-on to beat Jack Kennedy to title despite trailing by 14 winners

Paul Townend remains odds-on to overhaul Jack Kennedy in the race to become champion jockey, something that might prove some consolation ahead of what looks like being a meagre weekend.

The lowest weight Townend has made in the last 12 months is 10.5 so his presence on We’llhavewan in Sunday’s featured €100,000 Quinn Bet Grand National Trial at Punchestown looks all the more significant.

Since the Willie Mullins-trained horse is due to carry 10st, although the rider has indicated he may put up 2lbs overweight, even ‘wan’ mightn’t be on Townend’s menu. But his readiness to go light reflects an intensifying race for the championship.

Kennedy’s haul of 106 victories to date gives him a 14 winner lead over Townend as he pursues a first title.


Nevertheless, with the weight of the all-conquering Mullins team behind him, Townend is a 4-6 favourite with Paddy Power to be crowned champion for a seventh time come May. His rival is an 11-10 shot.

With the countdown to Cheltenham on in earnest, Townend is a 2-5 shot to be top rider at the festival.

Such long-term considerations will be overshadowed in the immediate aftermath of Maureen Mullins, mother of the champion trainer, being buried on Friday.

The 94-year-old matriarch of the famous racing family was a former director and long-standing shareholder at Gowran Park which races on Saturday. She cut the ribbon at the opening of the Co Kilkenny track’s new weighroom last month.

Townend has three rides at Gowran’s Red Mills Trial day, including Saint Sam in the Grade Two chase, before switching his attention to a handful of Sunday spins at Punchestown.

If Gowran’s conditions are set to be typically winter testing, then more forecast rain over the weekend could have Punchestown officials anxiously examining the skies.

“The ground is heavy and further rain is forecast,” said an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board spokesman on Friday. “We will continue to monitor the situation and liaise with Met Éireann tomorrow afternoon to see if an inspection might be required.”

In such conditions, many might conclude that We’llhavewan’s featherweight will be a major plus in the marathon centrepiece of Sunday’s card.

With an official mark of 115 over fences, the nine-year-old is 3lbs ‘wrong’ for the Trial, which has 16 lining up.

They include a quartet from Gordon Elliott who has landed four of the last five renewals, including last year with Coko Beach.

Tom Gibney has both Must Be Obeyed and Regina Dracones, both of whom will relish such a stamina test, although it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that most eyes will be on the Mullins runner.

He overcame testing conditions to score over hurdles at Navan in December off a rating of 124 that suggests he may be progressing.

If that is the case, and his jumping holds up for a first start over fences since the end of 2022, then he could prove the right choice no matter how ‘wrong’ he might officially be.

Tullyhill is Townend’s pick for Sunday’s Listed novice hurdle which sees the highly-touted No Flies On Him try to build on his impressive maiden victory at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Some exclusive fingers got burned on Tullyhill’s last trip to Punchestown when beaten at 1-8 in November, but he subsequently broke his maiden over a shorter trip at Naas.

His stable companion Mystical Power proved too good for Jigoro here last month, although the fact the race turned into something of a sprint didn’t suit the latter.

There would be no more appropriate winner in the circumstances of Saturday’s Gowran feature than the Mullins hope Saint Sam, although it’s hard not to suspect this could prove to be a perfect scenario for the mare Riviere D’etel.

She found Allegorie De Vassy too quick over the minimum trip in Naas last weekend. However, back over a longer trip, and heavy ground, as well as going right-handed, should make her a different proposition judged on her Fairyhouse effort over a month ago.

“Riviere D’etel is going right-handed, which she certainly enjoys. I would say this trip is probably more her thing than last weekend too. She has come out of the race very well and we are very happy with her,” said Elliott.

The Co Meath trainer has What’s Up Darling in the Grade Three Trial over hurdles and he has to concede a stone to her most likely rival, Lantry Lady.

It’s 11 months since Henry de Bromhead’s mare had her sole career start to date over this course and distance. It resulted in an impressive success and such a proven capacity to act in the conditions is a plus.

Townend’s willingness to team up with Spanish Harlem in a Beginners’ Chase is another plus and he can get the better of the Kennedy-ridden Saint Felicien.

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Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column