Champion jockey Paul Townend is set to undergo further scans this week on a foot injury that threatens to rule him out of Saturday's Aintree Grand National.
Townend injured his foot in a fall at Fairyhouse on Sunday that prevented him riding in Easter Monday’s Fairyhouse action where he missed a couple of Willie Mullins-trained winners.
Reports that Townend may have fractured a bone in his foot weren’t officially confirmed by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board and Mullins said no decision about his number one jockey riding at Aintree would be taken until later this week.
“He’s going to have another visit with his doctor during the week. We’ll take it bit by bit and see how he goes before we make any further decisions. That’s where we are,” Mullins said.
However, Ruby Walsh appeared to suggest on RTÉ that his successor as Mullins's number one had suffered a fracture, saying he wasn't sure if it was his metatarsal or elsewhere. He also anticipated a metatarsal fracture could mean up to 12 days on the sidelines.
That would rule Townend out of the coveted ride on Burrows Saint, second favourite for the Aintree National this weekend.
With the prospect of more scans not particularly encouraging, Rachael Blackmore will be keeping particularly close attention as any lengthy absence by Townend could throw her a lifeline in the race for this season's jockey's championship.
She trails her rival by 10 winners (95-85) in a race that might have been all but closed had Townend been on board Monday’s Grade Two winners, Stormy Ireland and Easy Game.
However, a glimmer of a chance at what would be a historic title may yet open up with the season due to end at Punchestown on May 1st.
Blackmore was out of luck in the Underwriting Exchange Hurdle as her mount, the 85-40 favourite French Dynamite, couldn’t peg back Stormy Ireland.
Danny Mullins replaced Townend and made all the running on a mare who was having her first start for Mullins since returning to him from a spell with Paul Nicholls.
“I’ll have a look at the mares’ hurdle at Punchestown, have a look at the conditions and see how she comes out of the race,” Mullins said. “She’s getting her style of racing back and I think Danny suited her great.”
Brian Hayes successfully stepped in for Townend on Easy Game, who was three parts of a length too good for Castlegrace Paddy in the Devneish Chase.
“The [good] jump at the last sealed it. That made the difference,” said Hayes who described the mount as a “great spare to get”.
Jeff Kidder showed his shock 80-1 Cheltenham festival success was no fluke when graduating to Grade Two level with a defeat of the odds-on Teahupoo in the Juvenile Hurdle.
Seán Flanagan’s mount was too strong from the last for his rival and scored at less extravagant 5-1 odds compared to his Fred Winter victory last month.
“A lot of people said the Fred Winter was a fluke and I just think it is the change in ground. He’s a real strong stayer off the flat,” Flanagan said
“He actually doesn’t jump fantastically but he gets from one side to the other and he does it his own way. He stuck his head down and galloped all the way to the line.”