GALOPIN Des Champs has joined the list of Cheltenham Festival greats after brilliantly defending his Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup crown.

Having answered stamina doubts 12 months ago, the Willie Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs was ridden much handier this time by Paul Townend with The Real Whacker and L’Homme Presse setting the pace.

Townend had edged his way to join the front-runners jumping four out and although the loose Fastorslow threatened to check his momentum, there were few dramas for the week’s leading rider who looked in complete control jumping to the front two out.

Paul Townend said: “Unbelievable. We had to go for reserves that I wasn’t even sure were there. I rode him obviously completely different to last year and he was just so brave for me. We were kind of in between at the last and I was afraid we didn’t have enough to go for it, but it was a Gold Cup and we had to. He has just pulled out all the stops again.”

Asked what makes Galopin Des Champs a champion, Townend said: “His heart probably. The two times he got beaten we were never really going to win and I was so disappointed. When I look back at it, I was still there in the finish, and that just shows how tough a horse he is. As I said, we had to go through reserves there [today] that only the really special ones have.”

The jockey went on to say: “We obviously changed it up a bit this year, but he enjoys doing that now. I got in a good rhythm…

“To be honest it feels different to all the other ones (Gold Cup wins) to be honest. I can’t really believe it. I’m a bit lost for words. He pulled out every stop, and we went for reserves in the last furlong that only the very best have.

“He was brave the whole way around. The loose one was interfering with us a bit and it was messy, but what he found from the back of the last… He got up the hill last year, but that was a different kind of ride and we’d conserved everything. We did it the hard way this year.

“I don’t even remember my thought process in dealing with the loose horse to be honest. All you are doing is reacting in a split second, so it’s kind of instinct and luck.

“He’s equalled Al Boum Photo now, yes. He’s the most recent one, but Al Boum Photo was very good too. With the way the programme has fallen at home now Willie supported it and it fell right for him. He usually doesn’t change things, but he did it with this lad, and we changed up the way we ride him as well.

“It’s easy when you are riding for Willie. You can go out and do things, change things. It actually went to Plan A probably, but if it didn’t you have free rein to change it up, and that’s the privilege of riding for the great man.”

Willie Mullins said: “He is classy, isn't he? Paul just jumped out and rode a race on him. He was never afraid to have him up there and in the van - be at the races. We were just afraid of the first couple of jumps - the last couple of years he has come here he has ballooned them a little bit - and this year Paul said, ‘No, we’ll get him out there, get him racing earlier on, and then settle him in and ride a race’, and that’s what he’s done.

“Apart from the loose horse, there wasn’t much worry, was there? You didn’t know which way he was going to go, and I could see Paul thinking he’d like to go on his inside in case he ran off the track into the horse cage and into the stable yard gate, and he took a brave decision going the other side, but it worked out in the end. Paul was very brave at the last couple of fences and sent him down to them: ‘Go on, son, you’ve got to jump these two’, you know.

“Since we got beaten in Punchestown in the John Durkan, we’ve been all forward with him. Paul was keen he just rode him like a racehorse and I could see the other way wasn’t working last year. He was just too free and less mature; now he’s way more mature and settled in his races, and much easier to ride, I think. Paul has full confidence in him - he has more confidence in him than I have, I think, and I can see why - he’s obviously getting that sort of feel from the saddle all along. Looking at it visually, I can think, is he doing too much and getting into a battle too early? But I think he’s just settled a bit this season.

“He gallops, he jumps, he stays - what more do you need?”

Asked whether he will now attempt a third Gold Cup win, Mullins said: “I imagine we have to do that, yes. I’d normally come back to Punchestown with him; I’ll have a word with connections. Good racehorses deserve to run in good races, and we need to see them out at the races, and that’s why I like running them. And if they’re beaten, it’s not the end of the world; they’re still good horses. He’s a horse I’m not afraid to race.

“It would be nice if he and Fact To File both were able to come here next year, but as we know, horses are fragile, especially going over fences - it’s much harder to keep those chasers sounder, they just pick up little injuries, so it would be fantastic if both horses were able to come here next year.

“I just think he put himself in the superstar category, to do what he did in the way that he did it, and that loose horse there - Paul was so positive on him - I think we have to say, we’re coming back next year to try to win a third one if we can. He has the ability to do it, he just has to stay sound, I think.

“The loose horse was the only concern that I saw - did he hit one fence early? After that it was very easy. Paul was in the position he wanted to be in, and he just seemed to be travelling easily all the time.

“He’s doing everything right; it was great to win a Gold Cup last year and we were crossing our fingers this year, if we got him there safe and sound we had every chance of winning, and he’s just done that. But you don’t believe those things, you dream of those things.

“Paul has really settled into the top job [after Ruby Walsh], hasn’t he? He’s a very different jockey and has a very different style of riding, but he’s really grown into it.”

Winning owner Audrey Turley said: “We are here with all the family and a lot of friends too. We can’t believe it, it is still a fantastic shock! I know he was favourite, but you never know with racing what is going to happen. To win here on the 100 year anniversary, well that is very special. It’s just been fantastic, we are so privileged to be here and just so thrilled to be part of this magnificent team – Willie, Paul, Galopin obviously, and everyone else involved from Closutton, it’s just fantastic.”

On what it was like to watch as the horse’s owner, she said: “Terrifying, it really is. I don’t think it gets any easier. I will enjoy the race later on, when I can enjoy it knowing the outcome. Anything can happen and I’m just so thrilled that everyone got round and Galopin won – I still can’t believe it! He is so special to us, we absolutely love him and when we go to the stables and meet him, he is just so kind and so loving. He nibbles our hair and has a red ball in his stable. He is just a beautiful, beautiful horse, I just want to snuggle him and cuddle him all day.”

Gordon Elliott, trainer of runner-up Gerri Colombe, said: “He ran a great race and we got a lot closer to the winner this time. The loose horse didn't help us but it didn't make the difference between winning and losing. The winner was very, very good.

Jack Kennedy, rider of runner-up Gerri Colombe, said: “It was a great run. I’m delighted with him. We thought he’d get a lot closer to the winner this time and he did. The loose horse didn’t help us, but we wouldn’t have beaten the winner anyway.

Lucinda Russell, trainer of the third Corach Rambler said: I’m absolutely over the moon. If you’d said to me I’d be third in the Gold Cup I wouldn’t have believed you. On Tuesday we weren’t going to run, but I don’t want to run him ever, ever, ever. I just want to pat him and look after him, but he’s a racehorse and he loves his job. Yesterday evening I said to Scu what are we going to do and he said ‘it’s going to be safe, and so long as it’s safe he’ll be fine’, and he’s run his socks off.

“At the top of the hill I thought he was a little further back than usual, but as he came down the hill and round that corner I just thought ‘could he do it again’. Maybe if the ground had been a bit better I don't know. All I know is that I’m delighted with him. To be third in the Gold Cup is fantastic and I can’t get over how much people here appreciate him.

“He’s just lovely. He’s the horse of a lifetime. It’s the perfect Grand National trial and I’m so proud of him.

Derek Fox, rider of the third Corach Rambler, said: “He’s a super horse. He’s been a marvellous horse all his career and that was another great run. The ground is bad, but it’s the same for all of them I suppose. It was really hard work but he ran his heart out.”

Andrew Edwards, owner of fourth-placed L’Homme Presse: “So proud of him. Charlie said it was a bit tacky for him, which blunted his speed a bit and he got a bit tired going into the last, but then picked up again. I’m just hugely proud. It’s his mental strength that makes him do that - he just wants to do it. He’s just an incredible being, as a soul.

“He served it up to them. He jumped fantastically, he’s enjoyed it. He’s had an interrupted season - it’s his third run of the season, and for him to do that, to be fourth in the Gold Cup, is amazing.”

3.30pm Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m 2f

1 Galopin Des Champs 10/1 1 Fav

2 Gerri Colombe 13/2

3 Corach Rambler 14/1

11 ran

Distances: 3½, 9½

Time: 7m 5.14s