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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

'I've started baking after getting into an argument about how easy it is'

Former Irish champion jump jockey Paul Townend, 27, gets a grilling

Paul Townend: 'I always knew I wanted to be a jockey'
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What advice would you give your ten-year-old self?
Enjoy your childhood, and learn as much as you can – actually, pay more attention in school.

What is your earliest racing memory?
We had horses at home and it's all I've ever really known. We were always going racing or watching it at home – it's always been a part of my life, I don't remember a time without racing.

When did you first know you'd become a jockey?
I always knew I wanted to be a jockey, but it was when I was watching my cousin Davy Condon have his first ride at Tipperary, at the same time I was just starting pony racing that I knew I never wanted to do anything else.

Do you feel the pressure standing in for Ruby Walsh while he's injured, or enjoy making the most of the opportunity?
Yes and no. It's obviously more pressure because you're riding better horses, or on the more fancied horses, but Willie [Mullins] and his owners are very fair, they don't put you under any more pressure. You put yourself under more pressure probably. I'd rather have the pressure and a better chance than not be getting the opportunity.

What do you think about the Dublin Racing Festival?
I think it's brilliant. It's a huge weekend it can't but be good for Irish racing.

Would you rather win the Irish Gold Cup or be champion jockey?
Probably champion jockey – I was lucky to do it once and I'd love to do it again.

What do you think racing does best?
It's a close community and comes together very well in times of misfortune. Everyone really rallies round people who are in a bit of bother.

Other than better prize-money, what is the one thing you would change about racing?
I'd be all for a proper break for jump jockeys in the summer. At the moment we get ten days off, but we could do with a longer break, maybe three weeks, just to let the body recover and enjoy some downtime. When there's Flat action going on I don't really see why jump racing has to be as busy – they could give us an extra week here or there.

Which country would you most like to race in that you haven’t yet?
I've been very fortunate and I've already ridden winners in France, Australia and the US, but I'd love to go to Japan when Willie sends horses over for the Nakayama Grand Jump.

Kauto Star or Arkle?
Kauto Star – I was raised on him.

What’s your biggest ambition in racing?
To ride as many high-profile winners as possible.

And outside of racing?
To make the people close to me proud and be successful so I can support those around me.

If you could compete in any other sport professionally, which would it be and why?
I'd love to be a Formula One driver, purely for the adrenaline and the speed – it's probably as close to race-riding as you can get.

What is your worst habit?
Smoking. I'd love to quit – I will do one day.

If you could meet one person, past or present, who would it be?
I'd love to meet Lewis Hamilton, I think he's pretty cool.

What has been your most embarrassing moment?
I was just reminded of this the other day – I was pony racing in Kerry and when I passed the line I started celebrating. The pony ducked right back into the parade ring and I managed to fall into a pile of nettles, really embarrassing. That brought me back down to earth – lesson learned.

What is your most treasured possession?
I spend a lot of time in the car and a lot of time on the phone, so I'd be lost without either of them.

How do you relax away from racing?
I like to play golf in the summer, I like watching movies, and lately I've started baking. It was to prove a point after I got into an argument with a couple of women over dinner about how easy it was, so I had to step up to the mark – and I'll keep my mouth shut in future.

Who has been the greatest influence on your career?
My mam and dad. They spent so much time when I was younger driving me around the country, going to shows, taking me pony racing and guiding me in the right way without ever pushing me.

What is the strangest/funniest thing you have seen on a racecourse?
Probably Roger Loughran – every day you go racing you're sure to get a good one-liner out of him and he brightens up the place.

Who do you most admire from the 'other' code?
Ryan Moore, who's just unbelievable for how he can adapt to different styles of riding around the world, and Aidan O'Brien's achievements speak for themselves.

Does your routine change in the run-up to Cheltenham or is it business as usual?
I don't think I do anything different – if you asked my girlfriend she'd probably tell you I get more contrary, but I don't think I change much. There's probably more pressure building up to it, but I don't change routine.

What is your biggest fear?
Failure, not being good enough or not succeeding in racing as it's all I've ever wanted – and I know nothing else, so if I don't succeed in racing, I'm screwed.

Do you have a nickname?
No, I've never really had a nickname – although I've been called a few things, but you couldn't print them.

Social media – friend or foe?
I think a friend if it's used correctly. It offers a huge platform for everyone now. You're going to get trolls and they defeat the purpose, but you can use it to your advantage.

Who would be your four ideal dinner party guests?
The team from A League Of Their Own – James Corden, Freddie Flintoff, Jack Whitehall and Jamie Redknapp.

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The pony ducked right back into the parade ring and I managed to fall into a pile of nettles

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Paul Townend
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