Sunday, April 17, 2011
By Stephen Dwyer
It was Winston Churchill who famously said that continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential. Champion-jockey-elect, Paul Townend is a young man who knows the former and is gifted with the latter.
Townend, a Cork native, will celebrate his 21st birthday this September and despite his fresh faced appearance, he has been around horses more than most. When Townend was a boy, his father Timmy trained point-to-pointers. Keeping it in the family, his uncle Bob Townend was a prominent jockey in the 1970’s and 1980’s and his uncle Gerry Townend was another top amateur. Paul’s first cousin is Davy Condon, former stable jockey to Nicky Richards and now closely affiliated with Noel Meade. Little wonder then since Paul left school at 15, the die was cast for his life as a jockey.
A precocious talent on the Pony Racing circuit, where he gained invaluable riding experience, Townend quickly progressed through the pony ranks. He then began riding as an apprentice on the flat; his debut was in the summer of 2007 in Ballinrobe on a nondescript Wednesday evening. Claiming a full 10lb allowance, Townend finished third on the Willie Mullins-trained Temlett. From that humble starting point, Townend quickly showed his ability as a horseman and started to win races. The most notable of these was when steering the heavily gambled favourite and top-weighted Emily Blake to a valuable handicap at the Galway Festival in 2007. Following this win, he closed a successful first season by winning on the last day of the flat.
Townend, even for a jockey, is not small. Like many of his former colleagues on the flat who battled in vain against their weight, he switched codes to the National Hunt arena. In doing so he followed the example set by Tony McCoy and Paul Carberry who can now manage their weight more easily than on the flat.
Success over jumps did not elude him for long and at the 2008 Galway Festival; Townend won the Galway Hurdle on the John Kiely-trained Indian Pace. Aside from the Galway win, it was at Closutton and through the opportunities presented by Willie Mullins, a man who knows a thing or two about talent that Townend’s career began to reach unprecedented heights.
In 2008, Willie Mullins was giving a pre-season interview when a boyish-faced stable lad walked past. The lad, replete with body protector and riding hat was carrying a brush and bucket. "See him," said Mullins when he was out of earshot of the lad, "Mention that young fella in your article. Paul Townend is his name. I think he is going to be good. He's bred to be anyway”
Since that day, Mikael D'Haguenet, Hurricane Fly, Golden Silver, Quevega and Zaidpour have all enjoyed Grade 1 success for Mullins and Townend, if you are old enough, you are good enough.
For a 20 year old, Townend riding style is very seasoned. In races, he settles horses early and has a quietness, an assurance about his business. There is an inner confidence which is matched by his work rate. To date, Townend has ridden 487 times this season; Andrew McNamara on 550 is the only National Hunt jockey to have ridden more.
Three weeks ago, a fall in a Handicap Chase at Navan resulted in a broken collarbone for Townend. This fall was on his sixth ride of the day, less than 18 hours previously he had ridden a winner on the flat at Dundalk. Townend is expected to be back riding this weekend at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival, with 76 winners this season, Davy Russell with 67 is his closest rival for the jockey’s title. With a top class book of rides ahead of him and Fairyhouse and Punchestown, Townend is likely to take the champion jockey title.
Incidentally, do you remember Temlett, the horse that Paul had his first ride? Now trained by Arthur Moore’s son, JD, he was the subject of a massive gamble last month in a handicap hurdle at Cork. Backed from 25/1 into 11/2, he overcame a 1061 day absence to make all and win comfortably.
His jockey? Paul Townend of course.
Funny how the wheel turns full circle.