Willie Mullins and Paul Townend enjoy last laugh at Punchestown

Screen shot 2017 05 25 at 10.35.23
By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Wed 25 Apr 2018

By Andy Stephens

While conspiracy theorists were having a ball and social media was getting its knickers in an almighty twist, it was a case of keep calm and carry on smiling at Closutton on Wednesday morning.

Willie Mullins' response to Paul Townend making a monumental blunder at one of the biggest jump meetings of the year - one that might have cost him the trainers' title - was to demand the jockey came in extra early the following day.

Not to hold an inquisition, read the riot act or throw his toys out of the pram, but to ensure everyone at the yard had ample time to poke some fun.

Nothing malicious, you understand, merely one-sided banter to ensure Townend realised that at times of adversity it is good to be among friends.

The smiling and laughter will carry on long into the night at the yard after one of the most one-sided days that has occured at such a significant meeting.

Mullins saddled six of the seven winners on the card (the final six - his three runners in the opener should hang their heads in shame) and Townend rode three of them.

Among all the one-way traffic, Gordon Elliott was brutally pushed aside. Having gone into the day leading the title race by €400,000, he ended it behind. It was a stunning exhibition of power by the champ; who has been on the ropes all winter but now has his rival taking a count on the canvas.

There will surely be no coming back for Elliott over the final three days. At this rate, Mullins might even be able to enjoy the meeting.

Racingfotos 48160812492 Danny Mullins, left, and Robbie Power, right, congratulate Townend for making all the right headlines on Wednesday (Racingfotos)

Midway through his winning spree, Mullins spoke openly about the events of the day before when Townend mistakenly thought he had to miss out the final fence aboard Al Boum Photo, who was in the lead and seemingly on course for victory.

"Everyone was disappointed but that happens in sport, and in racing you get a lot of it," he said.

"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 Grade One over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse and he had that in the bag yesterday.

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"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 did not want to talk publicly about his error, for which he received a 21-day ban for dangerous riding.

In his evidence to the stewards, Townend said he “was riding with his head down between the last two fences and heard roaring on his left which caught his attention”.

A statement issued by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board added: “He (Townend)  thought he had to bypass the fence but didn’t know which side to bypass on.

“He panicked and commenced his move to bypass the fence on the right side but then realised there was nothing on the fence to indicate a bypass was needed and tried to correct his actions but it was too late.

Racingfotos 48143927619 Townend and Al Boum Photo crash out at Punchestown, taking Finian's Oscar with them (Racingfotos)

“He accepted in hindsight that there were no bypass procedures in place.

The crowd of 19,000 gave Townend a hearty welcome back to the winner's enclosure after his win on Next Destination, no doubt the fact he was backed down to 5-4 from 2-1 being a contributiung factor.

"The reception there meant a lot," he said. "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."

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."

A measure of both men.

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