Donn's Articles » Jody Townend

Jody Townend

No doubt about the star of the show on Day One anyway. 

She couldn’t have gone without the horse, Great White Shark, and the mare couldn’t have got there without trainer Willie Mullins, but it was on rider Jody Townend that the spotlight was deservedly trained at Galway on Monday evening.

It wasn’t just because she won the feature race on the opening day of the Galway Festival, the Connacht Hotel QR Handicap, and it wasn’t just that she gave her mare a clever ride, a thoughtful ride, and it wasn’t just because the enormity of what she achieved had her gasping wonderfully with incredulity and with gratitude through all the post-race fuss.  It was also because of the adversity that she had to overcome in order to just be fit to ride in the race.

A schooling fall last October broke her T12 vertebrae and necessitated the insertion of an assortment of rods and pins.  That would have been enough to deter most people, but we know now that people who ride horses are not most people.  Her return to riding, intended for February, was delayed, because the pins got infected, which necessitated more operations.  The pain?  The sleepless nights?  She brushed it all off yesterday.  That’s all in the past now, she said.

She just returned this month, but her ride on Royal Illusion in the Ladies Derby at The Curragh on Irish Oaks day, while not a winning ride, told you that she was race-riding fit all right. 

The best amateurs ride in the Connacht Hotels Handicap.  Patrick Mullins and Lisa O’Neill and Derek O’Connor and Jamie Codd and Barry O’Neill.  Willie Mullins ran four in the race, and the fact that he put Jody Townend up on one of them spoke volumes.

Horse and rider were well behind early on, and along the inside.  Great White Shark was a little keen through the early throes of the race, but her rider got her to switch off nicely, in behind horses, well back in the field.  She was happy to allow her horse find her racing rhythm, relaxed, conserving energy, even though she was conceding lengths.  In so doing, she betrayed a confidence and a measure of big-race calm that is rare for one so inexperienced.

Still fourth last of the 20 runners as the seven-furlong marker flashed past, Townend had the presence of mind to move her mare towards the outside as they raced down into the dip.  She was giving away ground for sure, but it can get congested down the rail in these big fields around Galway.  Her trainer had told her beforehand not to be afraid to go wide if that’s where she thought she would get clear passage.

She was very wide turning for home, wider than any of her rivals, but she knew that she had the horse underneath her.  The rider asked her horse for her effort, and the mare delivered.  She stayed on best of all down the outside, hit the front 100 yards out, and came away from her rivals to win a little bit cosily in the end.

It was interesting to listen to Willie Mullins speak after the race.  What came through was how highly he rates Jody Townend as a rider, and Willie Mullins knows a thing or two about rating riders.  He said that he has been onto her to ride on the flat.  That she is light and that she can ride, and that that is a potent combination.  It appears that she just wants to ride over obstacles, like her older brother Paul, reigning champ and Gold Cup winner.  Even so, don’t be surprised if you see Jody Townend emerge from stalls more often in the near future.

For now, though, this is a victory that is to be celebrated.  For the trainer for starters, his third win in the race in the last three years.  And for the mare.  This was Great White Shark’s third win in her last four runs.  A two-mile hurdle, a three-mile hurdle, and now a two-mile Connacht Hotel Handicap on the flat.  She is as versatile as she is talented. 

A dual winner on the flat for James Fanshawe as a three-year-old, the Le Havre mare is progressing nicely this year now for Willie Mullins, and she was well backed yesterday, from big morning odds down to 8/1 co-second-favourite.  She still holds entries at Galway on Thursday and Friday and Saturday too, so it may be that we will see her race again before the week is out.

And for the rider.  The Connacht Hotel is high on the wish-list of just about every Irish amateur rider who has a big-race wish-list.  Jody Townend has it on her big-race CV now.  It could be the first of many.

© The 42, 30th July 2019