TWELVE months on from one of the most dramatic final fence falls in Cheltenham Festival history, Galopin Des Champs reached the summit of National Hunt racing with a superb performance to win the Gold Cup in front of 68,814 at Cheltenham on Friday.
The Audrey Turley-owned seven-year-old gave Willie Mullins and Paul Townend a third win in the race in five years and sealed another superb Festival for all involved at Closutton.
The son of Timos was in a class of his own as Townend sat him off a strong pace set by Ahoy Senor.
The race changed complexion when that rival came down at the sixth last, taking Sounds Russian out and badly hampering last year’s winner A Plus Tard, but all the time Galopin Des Champs had been picking off rivals.
Still held onto entering the straight, it was clear he was travelling powerfully and he displayed the same finishing kick he did at Leopardstown once allowed to by Townend and his closest pursuer Bravemansgame had no answer after the last.
“I felt the pressure at the third last,” the champion trainer said. “I didn’t realise how much pressure I had put myself under until then, when I started to realise this could happen.
“It was different to Al Boum Photo - there was no expectation on him when he came here to win. We came here with this fellow and we thought we have a real Gold Cup horse but he hadn’t gone the trip and I said I thought he’d have no bother but I guess you don’t know until they do it. Thankfully he did.”
“When I saw him coming back on the bridle so quick (after the third last), I thought it could happen. Paul was just waiting and lurking in behind the others - he is so good under pressure, and I put him under a lot of that this week!
?? "I was surprised how much pressure I had felt."— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 17, 2023
A third @Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph for @WillieMullinsNH following a special performance from Galopin Des Champs
The Closutton maestro discusses the 'pressure' of training this superstar pic.twitter.com/54JRByTKTx
“I told him going out to him ride him like the fastest horse, don’t get involved until you need to. He was fourth or fifth around the last bend and he didn’t pull out until he saw the second last, timed his run perfectly and that’s huge - we saw Rachel doing it last year.
When you consider the sort of headstrong individual this horse was last year, it has been a remarkable training performance from Mullins.
Asked what the key has been this year, Mullins nodded towards the groom Adam Connolly.
“Adam does everything with him,” he said. “I don’t let Paul, Patrick or Ruby go near him - Adam takes care of him. I’d say he’s at least 12st so he keeps him anchored!”
Townend savoured his third win in the race and now only Pat Taaffe has more Gold Cup wins than him.
“The Gold Cup brings winning to a different level. Cheltenham is very important, but the Gold Cup just has that little bit more spice to it.”
Let's hear from the Gold Cup winning jockey - @PTownend!— Virgin Media Sport (@VMSportIE) March 17, 2023
??? "He's ran about three different races but he still won the Gold Cup!"
??? "This race is just different."#CheltenhamFestival | #VMTVRacing pic.twitter.com/0dXl7qgk1Q
Reflecting on the progression of Galopin Des Champs, the rider said: “He’s matured, he’s grown up. He’s a bit older, a bit wiser. I suppose he surprised me how well he settled the first day (John Durkan) at Punchestown, and then going to Leopardstown, I was half-afraid to light him up to see what would happen, but I did away from the stands that day and he came back underneath me after a big jump, so he’s just the full package now. He has to be to win from where I came from, I think!”
Bravemansgame ran a fabulous race in second and though he was one-paced late on, he answered the stamina queries over this trip as it was an exceptional horse that beat him rather than the extra distance.
Paul Nicholls was buoyant with the performance. “What can you say, I’m just super proud of him and everything went right,” he said. “He jumped well and he travelled well and I could just see Galopin stalking him a little bit. We wouldn’t do any different.”
Conflated also ran a fine race for Gordon Elliott in third, with Sam Ewing deputising for Davy Russell. A Plus Tard was pulled up coming down the hill with Rachael Blackmore reporting that the horse was fine and just got left on the back foot after being hampered by the fall of Ahoy Senor,
With the right age profile, Galopin Des Champs is no bigger than 6/4 for a repeat success in 12 months time. He is likely to go to Punchestown for his final run of the season.