Day to remember for Townend & Mullins – latest from second day of 2018 Irish National Hunt Festival at Punchestown

After an opening day to forget at the 2018 Punchestown Festival, jockey Paul Townend bounced back in the best possible fashion this afternoon with a Grade 1 victory. Townend sensationally ran out at the final fence of the Growise Novices’ Chase on Tuesday aboard Al Boum Photo, with the race seemingly at his mercy, but landed the Grade 1 IRISH DAILY MIRROR NOVICE HURDLE today on Next Destination. The 5/4 favourite got up by a neck from Delta Work with the same distance back to the Colin Tizzard-trained Kilbricken Storm.
Townend had got on the scoresheet for the day when winning the previous race, the LOUIS FITZGERALD HOTEL HURDLE, aboard the Willie Mullins-trained Pravalaguna (11/4).
Speaking about Next Destination, Mullins said: “That was a great performance from both horse and rider. Paul has been cool under pressure in the last two races. I am delighted for him and the crowd are delighted for him, which shows how well thought of he is over here.
“I think that was an amazing bit of riding. Paul’s totally focused and it’s paying off. What more can I say other than it’s a fantastic day for him. That was a tough call there, especially with the horse on the inside of him going so well but he got him at it early and then once he got him at it he needed to jump the last (well). He got the horse in the right position at the last and then won. 
“He’s a tough horse. He won over two and a half, and I wondered could he go back (to two miles). He’s such a slick jumper but actually just settling him over a trip is the best thing to do. When he gets down to gallop, he’s got a huge long stride and I think that’s what paid off. Paul had to get at him a bit earlier because Colin’s horse (Kilbricken Storm) was going so well on the inside but once he just lengthened his stride, he got Colin’s horse at it and once he got him at it, there was a great chance he could win and he got his last jump (perfect).”
Referring to yesterday, Mullins added: “Everyone was disappointed but that happens in sport, and in racing you get a lot of it. We insisted that Paul came in this morning good and early, so we got plenty of slagging into him and treated it the same as if it was a day down in Ballinrobe or some country race meeting. That’s it. Paul had to stand and take it, and he took it – it was just funny. The first visitor we had this morning was Joe Tizzard! They met in the barn – it wasn’t planned or anything – but they had a chat and a laugh about it.  It was disappointing that happened but no-one died and no horse was injured. We know now that we have a very good horse. He was able to win a G1 over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse and he had that in the bag yesterday. Mr Donnelly, our owner, was philosophical about it. He said at least we know we have a very good horse now and these things happen in sport. We are all lucky we are in this sport and that we’re at the top end of this sport.”
Townend added: “He was tough, he saw out that three miles well. I got involved plenty early on him, I don’t know if it was the third last or the second last, but once I got him going he was genuine and he stayed going.  I wasn’t sure if I’d get there, coming off the bend and going down to the last, but as I got to the wings of the last I was getting more confident and then one started rattling down the outside (Delta Work) which made me sweat a bit but in fairness to the horse he pulled it out. It was a great race to ride in. I’d imagine the plan will be that he will go chasing next year. We’ll sit down and talk about it but he rides like a chaser.”
After winning the previous race, Townend said: “The reception there meant a lot. I am trying to put yesterday behind me now and move on. We have a job to do today, which is the mentality I came with. Thankfully, that [winner] takes a bit of weight off of our shoulders. I have commented on it [what happened yesterday] and don’t want to say anymore about it. I want to put it behind me now and move forward. I have a lot of good people behind me, which means a lot in this game. Racing is good as a lot of people rally around you. Pravalaguna had a good run the last day when she stuck at it well. The step back up to two and a half today suited her. I guess things fell right for her.”
Mullins added: “Paul is a popular guy and that was shown by the reception he got. I’m delighted that what happened yesterday didn’t dent his confidence. He waited for the gap and did it right, I thought he was so cool there. That’s how good he is and a measure of the man. The winner is a good mare but she has just been a bit unlucky. He kept her travelling sweetly.”
Meanwhile Mullins also saddled a 1-2 in the day’s feature Grade 1 CORAL PUNCHESTOWN GOLD CUP when Bellshill (4/1), the mount of David Mullins, came home three-quarters of a length in front of Djakadam (Mr Patrick Mullins, 5/1).
“David gave the horse a great ride and I’m delighted for Bellshill’s owner Graham Wylie,” said the winning trainer. “It’s fantastic for the horse to come back from Fairyhouse, where he was disqualified. To return and win like this today showed what he had in the tank. The horse has a huge engine.”
David Mullins added: “As we have seen today and yesterday, it is amazing how quickly things can turn around and it is great to get one here this week. We went a good gallop and that was Bellshill’s first time in a proper Gold Cup over three miles against seasoned horses. He has bossed the handicappers and run well in novice races, but he stepped up to the plate and I think you will find plenty of improvement next season.
“I was confident going down to the last that I was going to win 10 lengths and if I needed him, he would pick up for me. I felt I had that much horse, but as you see there, he is so idle when he hits the front.  It is a bit of sickener to lose the Irish National but we have got something back here and it is great to do it in Punchestown. Bellshill has got plenty of ability and is so good to jump. He has the right attitude and, although he doesn’t do enough when he hits the front, I am sure as he matures that will be ironed out.
“Graham Wylie gave me my first G1 winner on Nichols Canyon. I have had plenty of success for him and he is great supporter of the yard, and to get the opportunities for Willie this week when all the pressure is on for the championship is pretty special.”
The race saw Willie Mullins’ deficit in the trainers’ championship reduced to just €112,339 behind Gordon Elliott.
The opening ADARE MANOR OPPORTUNITY SERIES FINAL HANDICAP HURDLE went toPrince Garyantle (25/1) for trainer Matthew Smith. Adam Short, who was in the saddle, also captured the Adare Manor Opportunity Series with 81 points.
“That was great. Matthew has done a serious job with him because that was his first run for six months. He is an underrated trainer,” said Short. “I was a little bit worried because he likes to be ridden from the front and that can be a worry in a big handicap. He got a flyer from the start, travelled away and whenever I got left alone in front, I was able to keep filling him up. He was impressive enough, I would say.
“It has been a bit of an up and down season. We have not got much of a run at it but this is a nice way to finish up.” 
The winner was returning from a layoff of 188 days and Smith added: “I was worried that fitness would catch him out but I’m pleased that it didn’t. Adam gave the horse a great ride and the plan was to go chasing after today. He could also run on the Flat.
“When the horse won at Clonmel he had improvement and he showed more improvement again today. We can’t believe how much he has improved.”


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