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State Man wins Champion Hurdle

by Marko Florentino
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For much of his career Townend rode in the shadow of Ruby Walsh, a man as eloquent as he was fine in the saddle. It was a long apprenticeship but when Walsh picked Bellshill over Al Boum Photo in the 2019 Gold Cup, shortly before his retirement, Townend was able to provide the trainers with a first Gold Cup winner. Confirmation that he would take over when Walsh called it a day was instant and he has become a trusted, reliable cog in the set-up.

He may never have Walsh’s gift of the gab and television may not be for him in retirement but he is racking up the Cheltenham winners. His treble yesterday on Gaelic Warrior, State Man and Lossiemouth took his tally to 31.

“It’s a lot better than the first race,” Townend said after Lossiemouth had won the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle. The jockey was referring to the one beaten favourite, Tullyhill, he rode in the Supreme. “The pressure [of coming here with a lot of favourites to ride] is a privilege but it’s pressure and it’s a relief when it goes right.”

When asked how Lossiemouth would have run in the Champion, he smiled and gave a politician’s answer: “I like being in here [the winner’s enclosure] as often as possible! State Man is so adaptable and reliable. You can ride him with a free rein about what you want to do. He’s a favourite of mine.

‘No one cares tomorrow what happened today’

“Without Willie I wouldn’t be here so any day to come here with a winner for Willie is a good day. Last night I was relatively OK, probably the best I’ve been. It’s the two weeks before which are as bad anything, when he is deciding what to run in which race.

“I’m not complaining about the ground. It’s National Hunt racing and they’re National Hunt horses but tomorrow is a new day. No one cares tomorrow what happened today.”

On a dominant day for the Mullins family and the Irish – can we just present them with the Prestbury Cup at the end of today? – the sole British winner belonged to Kim Bailey, a man who in the mid-90s enjoyed almost Mullins-type domination winning the 1995 Champion Hurdle with Alderbrook and the Gold Cup with Master Oats.

He won the Ultima in 1999 with Betty’s Boy but the small but agile Chianti Classico skipped away with this year’s race to beat Twig, another British runner, four and a half lengths. It was a race of mixed emotions for the local trainer. He spent the first half wondering if Trelawne, his other runner who fell at the second was all right (he was) and the second half watching in marvel at the seven-year-old winner.

“When he made a mistake at the top of the hill I though David [Bass] was getting too brave, but he adores this horse. He says he’s a complete terrier.”

“I hope Trelawne’s OK for this race next year,” said Bass, the vegan jockey. “This horse loves jumping though and half way round I was thinking of Liverpool. He’s on springs. So many of the good horses are in Ireland now, when you get one you’ve got to enjoy it.”

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