Last year’s Festival heartbreak was firmly put to one side as Galopin Des Champs powered clear to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup for Paul Townend and Willie Mullins.
The seven-year-old fell in last year’s Turners’ Novices’ Chase when looking set to pull clear for a wide-margin victory, but there would be no such issue this time around.
He jumped and travelled well in behind rivals attempting to galvanise their mounts, but it was the red-hot favourite who jumped away from the gallant Bravemansgame and Harry Cobden at the final fence to win by seven lengths at the line.
Conflated ran on well to finish third under stand-in jockey Sam Ewing, with Davy Russell stood down for the day, and last year’s Grand National winner Noble Yeats back in fourth.
Defending champion A Plus Tard under Rachael Blackmore suffered interference after the fall of Ahoy Senor and was eventually pulled up.
An equine superstar
It was a pitch-perfect ride from Paul Townend and no doubt redemption for the now three-time Gold Cup winner, having suffered an agonising fall when set to hammer his rivals at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
That day, he looked to jump the final fence but pitched on landing, sending Townend flying over the horse’s head and leaving Bob Olinger and Blackmore to take a fortuitous victory.
This time, the duo needed a big leap at the last to repel the threats of Cobden and Bravemansgame, and Townend wasn’t let down his partner.
And with the roar of the 70,000-strong sell-out crowd cheering him home, the duo devoured the famous Cheltenham hill for a stunning victory.
Winning trainer Willie Mullins said after the race: “There was a huge weight of expectation behind this guy.
“I was wondering if he was too far back and I knew they’d try to sap his stamina but Paul was always going well. He jumped his way into the race.
“It just worked out, he gave him a brilliant, cool ride. Everyone was questioning the distance and his stamina, they were going to make it plenty fast so I didn’t want him up there in the early exchanges.
“If he has the class, he’ll come through, if he hasn’t then there’s no point. All the thoughts go through your head, have we gone too far back? They had gone such a gallop, something had to give.
“One or two fell and we missed all that, we’d a lot of luck. I think that man on board, when the pressure comes on, he’s very good.”
“You’d like to think we’ll come back next year as favourite and win it.”
A delighted Townend added after the race: “It was messy for me – I couldn’t get a clean passage early, and he started jumping in the air a little bit, but when I got a bit of room, in fairness to him he came back into a rhythm with me and was very, very brave.
“I think he got me out of a fair hole, to be honest – I was a lot further back than I wanted to be, but it was just the ride I had to give him.
“There was so little fresh ground that everyone wanted to be in it, and the start was very messy.
“He was good and brave. There were horses going left of me and right of me (when the two horses fell at the top of the hill) and he always just found a leg, and you need that luck in racing.
“He missed one of the fences coming down the hill, and I thought that was going to put me on the back foot a bit again, but no, straight back on the bridle for me. I don’t think the horse understands how good he is, to be honest.”
He went on: “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.”