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Townend has all the tools for dominant 2022 Cheltenham Festival

Paul Townend was the top jockey of Cheltenham Festival in 2020 as he claimed the second Gold Cup of his career on the back of Al Boum Photo along with four other triumphs. However, he and trainer Willie Mullins were put on the back foot in 2021 by the rise of Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore. Blackmore put on a brilliant display over the course of the week to run off six victories, including Honeysuckle’s triumph in the Champion Hurdle.

Despite the immense talent of charges available to Mullins and Townend, they combined for only three victories as a tandem, losing the Gold Cup in the process to Minella Indo, De Bromhead and Jack Kennedy. Al Boum Photo and Townend will ride in the Gold Cup at least once more, but probably for the final time in 2022.

The French thoroughbred is backed at 10/1 in the horse racing odds to triumph, which would see him join an elite company of horses to have won the race three times. It would be a great step for Townend in his bid to regain the top rider title, and he is touted as the leading contender in the Cheltenham 2022 top jockey odds to win the award. He will face a fierce battle with Blackmore and De Bromhead over the course of the week, but the Irishman will have the chance to set the tone from the off in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Townend will be handed the reins of either Sir Gerhard or Dysart Dynamo in the opening race of the festival. Sir Gerhard was utilised by Blackmore last season to win the Champion Bumper, defeating Townend on Kilcruit in the race. However, the Irishman has guided Sir Gerhard to two victories over the course of the season, and should be at the saddle to battle Constitution Hill and Nico De Boinville. Should Mullins and Townend triumph in the contest, it could be the start of a successful day with Blue Lord in the Arkle Chase and Appreciate It in the Champion Hurdle in contention for titles.

Blue Lord has reeled off three wins on the bounce with Townend this season, but will have to raise his game at the Arkle to defeat Edwardstone, who has been excellent in England this season. Appreciate It faces a bigger challenge to topple Blackmore and Honeysuckle at the Champion Hurdle. Townend rode his charge to a dominant victory at Cheltenham in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last season, but he has not competed since. The Irish thoroughbred does have outstanding pedigree, but it will take all of Townend’s experience and skill to outduel his rival over the two miles and 87 yards of the event.

Even if those races are unsuccessful there are ample other contenders to bring glory to Townend. Galopin Des Champs has been sensational this term and seems a lock for either the Browns Advisory Novices’ Chase or the Turner Novices’ Chase.

Vauban will have a strong challenge for the Triumph Hurdle and Klassical Dream has the chance to threaten for the Stayers’ Hurdle. Then there is the Gold Cup where Al Boum Photo should not be discounted. Even when he was not at his best he still placed third last season. Townend might be capable of squeezing one last effort out of the horse to send him out in style and claim the top jockey’s prize in the process.