What a difference a year makes. Connections of Galopin Des Champs suffered heartbreak at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival when their supremely talented chaser fell at the final fence with the Turners Novices’ Chase at his mercy. Twelve months later the same connections were walking back to the winner’s enclosure at Prestbury Park after a superb victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
It wasn’t plain sailing for the favourite, owned by Audrey Turley, with Paul Townend settling Galopin Des Champs toward the rear of the 13-runner field as Ahoy Senor and Derek Fox set the fractions in the 3m2f contest. The gallop proved too hot for Stattler and Minella Indo, both pulled up before things started to get serious.
The good pace continued to sort the runners out until Ahoy Senor fell at the 17th fence, bringing down Sounds Russian, while 2022 hero A Plus Tard was hampered in the melee and then pulled up by Rachael Blackmore before three out.
Turning for home Bravemansgame, never far from the leaders, was seen travelling sweetly under Harry Cobden but on his outside Galopin Des Champs moved up menacingly under Townend as the blue riband turned into a two-horse race.
Both met the final fence on a good stride, but it was Galopin Des Champs who showed the greater stamina, staying on powerfully up the hill to cross the line seven lengths clear of Bravemansgame with Conflated, partnered by Sam Ewing who was a late call-up to replace Davy Russell, six and a half lengths lengths further back in third.
It was a third Gold Cup for all the all-conquering duo of Mullins and Townend having combined with dual victor Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020.
Mullins told ITV Racing: “I think we put ourselves under pressure by saying he has enough stamina to win a Gold Cup, but I thought he had enough class to win a Gold Cup.
“When Al Boum Photo won the Gold Cup there wasn’t a huge weight of expectation behind him, but there was a huge weight of expectation behind this guy. I didn’t realise how much pressure until about the third last, when I saw Paul but he flew through, and then he came back on the bridle and I thought, ‘It’s going to happen, it’s going to happen’.
“Through the race I was wondering, ‘Is he too far back?’ but I’d asked Paul just to settle him and said that they would try and sap his stamina. I said, ‘You’ve got the best horse, you’ve got the fastest horse, you just ride it like you’re on the fastest horse from the second last home’, and that’s what he has done. Paul is so good under pressure, and I’ve been putting him under fair pressure this week.
“We have trained him differently. Adam Connolly, who leads him up, [is] his groom who rides him all the time and just keeps a lid on him. We didn’t do as much fast work with him this year, it’s all about stamina and getting him to switch off. Paul has done that in the last few races as well.
“The horse has just relaxed and Paul gets him relaxed and puts him to sleep. I was wondering had we overdone it a bit at the half-way stage, but then I thought they were pouring it on at the front – it’s three and a quarter miles.”
Mullins also has a top-class group of youngsters to look forward to on the basis of the outcome of the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle, with the master of Closutton supplying the first four home in the two-mile contest.
The first three for team Mullins were all fillies, as Rich Ricci’s Lossiemouth saw off stable companions Gala Marceau and Zenta under Townend.
Paul Nicholls’ good week continued as Stay Away Fay, owned by Chris Giles and Dave Staddon, outstayed the formidable Irish challenge in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (3m).
Harry Cobden was keen to take a prominent position on the six-year-old Shantou gelding, who found plenty after jumping the final flight to hold off Affordable Fury and Sandor Clegane.