Big Weekend: The big stories behind the 4 Irish fixtures this weekend

Friday, May 31, 2019
Big Weekend 31st May..

Townend’s statement for the defence

Paul Townend served one of the longest apprenticeships in history before finally becoming Number One jockey to Willie Mullins. It would be more difficult to find a more successful one either, given that his spell as understudy to Ruby Walsh yielded 47 Grade 1 victories, 10 Cheltenham Festival successes and two champion jockey titles.

With Walsh riding off into the sunset, Townend quickly brought his tally to 50 Grade 1s, thanks to Un De Sceaux and Benie Des Dieux at Punchestown, and the latter once more in the Grande Course de Haies at Auteuil 13 days ago.

And with the commencement of a new season domestically, he has been banging in winners at terrific rate, 15 from 28 an obviously unsustainable run of 54 per cent in the long term.

Davy Russell, who added the Grande Steeple-Chase de Paris to his CV with Carriacou in France, 24 hours after Townend and Benie Des Dieux were triumphant, has himself had a very strong start to the new term and would not be unhappy with nine winners at a 25 per cent strike rate at the end of May. Yet he is already playing catch-up as Townend puts the boot down early in his bid to defend his crown.

Like Russell, the champ has always been very busy and it is notable that of his eight declared rides from this evening to Sunday, seven different trainers are deploying his services. No sign of resting on his laurels there.


Conditional contest

Two-in-a-row conditional champion, Donie McInerney will not be eligible for honours this time around and it is interesting how there are already eight multiple winners among the claiming professionals in the embryonic stages of the National Hunt season.

There have been two Kerry champions this decade, Bryan Cooper taking the spoils in 2011 and Jack Kennedy doing so five years later.

It is very early days yet but Listowel man Kevin Brouder is leading the charge at this juncture, with five winners. Cathal Landers is on four, Adam Short on three and Liam Quinlan, Danny O’Keeffe, Katie O’Farrell and Shane Mulcahy have two.

Interestingly, Brouder – whose brothers Gearóid and Gavin are also jockeys – will be employed on the treble across the water in Worcester tomorrow for shrewd trainer Charles Byrnes, which is a good indicator of how highly he is rated. He will be optimistic about registering his first cross-channel success.

The five-pound claimer’s sole opportunity to add to his domestic tally over the weekend comes in the Mid Summer Monday 17th June Race Evening Beginners Steeplechase (4.20) at Kilbeggan on Sunday. Barry Connell’s Wonderoftheworld is making his first public racecourse visit since finishing third in a novice chase at Brouder’s home track last September and in the circumstances, faces a tough task against a field that includes the Mullins/Townend axis, who will be represented by Grade 3-winning hurdler, Robin De Carlow


Lyons hungry for more

The Ger Lyons success story is a stunning one, since the former journeyman jump jockey turned his hand to training. Gradually, the Meath man has built a phenomenal operation at Glenburnie Stables in Kiltale.

Having become a regular at the top end in terms of numbers, and famously buttressed Colin Keane’s championship-winning campaign in 2017, Lyons has increasingly managed to increase the quality of his string as well despite always operating on the soundest business principals, buying at a budget and maximising potential.

Success attracts owners however, and an increasing number of Khalid Abdullah charges have thrived under Lyons. The very exciting Siskin and Viadera both prevailed at the Curragh last Friday, the former in the Listed Marble Stakes, to leave Lyons dreaming of adding to his tally of 20 group winners.

He would have derived almost as much satisfaction from the victory of stable favourite, Tony The Gent at Gowran Park and with My Mystique completing a double, is now on 21 winners and more than €500,000 in prizemoney. Only Dermot Weld and Aidan O’Brien are above him in the trainers’ table.

Lyons has seven runners between now and Sunday. As usual, Keane is on board, except when there are multiple runners. That applies in the Lengthen The Odds with BetVictor Handicap (2.55) at Listowel on Sunday, when Keane plumps for Heavenly Rainbow but Gary Carroll will not be without a chance on Wartime Hero, who is rated just two pounds inferior to his stablemate.

With Walsh riding off into the sunset, Townend quickly brought his tally to 50 Grade 1s, thanks to Un De Sceaux and Benie Des Dieux at Punchestown, and the latter once more in the Grande Course de Haies at Auteuil 13 days ago.

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