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Willie Mullins: 'Two years ago I'd given up on the dream of winning a Gold Cup'

Al Boum Photo: Willie Mullins-trained star going for a historic third Cheltenham Gold Cup
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Willie Mullins has admitted it will be 'extraordinary' if Al Boum Photo can emulate Arkle and Best Mate by winning three Cheltenham Gold Cups, and believes he would deserve his place on a pedestal alongside those racing legends should he land the Cheltenham Festival showpiece next month.

Al Boum Photo has been seen only once since the successful defence of his crown last March – his traditional New Year's Day Savills Chase success at Tramore – but Mullins reports him to be in rude health as the days tick down to his date with destiny on March 19.

Mullins said: "Two years ago I had given up on the dream of winning a Gold Cup at all and now it's unbelievable to be on the brink of an Arkle achievement. It would be extraordinary if he managed to do it. We never dreamed he would.

"He is easy to train, that's the thing about him. When you see him in a field he's unremarkable, but he stands out when he's on his own. He's always looking over a hedge to see what's going on but when among the horses he's just 'Ordinary Joe'."

Al Boum Photo is a top-priced 3-1 for the Gold Cup and Mullins, who has sent out 72 festival winners in his career, added: "He is in great shape and worked well last week. He has a big bit of work coming up this week.

2021 WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup entries and betting

"Little did I think when we bought him or when he ran out at Punchestown or when he had the mishap with Ruby [Walsh] at Cheltenham that we would be in this position. He has a funny back history but here he is – a double Gold Cup winner going for his third. We are very privileged to have him.

"There are no negatives at this time and there have been no setbacks. He obviously has an engine and if he is able to go back and do it three times then I think he can sit up there with any of those greats. That is something we will worry about if he is able to do it."

A Plus Tard and Champ have emerged as young pretenders to Al Boum Photo's crown and Mullins has huge respect for both. 

A Plus Tard: one of Al Boum Photo's chief rivals for this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup

He said: "I think you have to take both A Plus Tard and Champ seriously. Both are stayers. A Plus Tard is bred to stay and Champ proved that he stayed all day last year. The two have both put in huge performances as their prep run."

Al Boum Photo is one of 13 ante-post favourites Mullins trains at the Cheltenham Festival and nine of those are in Grade 1s. You could argue it is the most powerful army any trainer has ever brought into battle at Cheltenham and the man himself thinks it is down to recruitment, owners and staff. 

Mullins said: "I was as surprised as anybody when I read that I had 13 favourites. I genuinely couldn't believe it. It wasn't looking like we would have that last autumn, that's for sure. 

"I think recruitment must be the key. I'm always searching and looking for new horses. At the moment I'm looking for horses that are probably going to be racing for me in two years' time. We're always on the lookout for young horses. That's instrumental in creating a base to work from."

He added: "But you've got to have the people there who invest the money in bloodstock. We're very lucky to have owners like that who want to have nice horses.

Willie Mullins on Al Boum Photo: "He has a funny back history but here he is – a double Gold Cup winner going for his third. We are very privileged to have him"

"That doesn't happen overnight. It's a thing that builds up over years. It's very hard for young trainers to come in and expect to compete because they've got to build up clients and trust with those with those clients.

"It's a combination of everything – jockeys and staff are very important too. When you look at the top end of my staff, they are all with me the same length of time that I'm here in Closutton – Ruby, David [Casey], Patrick [Mullins], Jackie [Mullins] and Dick [Dowling] our head man. That's a lot of experience between everyone and maybe that's all coming to fruition now."

Read more:

Saint Roi out of Champion Hurdle with new French recruit waiting in the wings

A Plus Tard flies home to enter Gold Cup picture as main contenders crash out

'All roads lead to Cheltenham' – Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo passes Tramore test

Al Boum Photo joins the exalted as Mullins and Townend enjoy golden afternoon

Willie Mullins: 'He's going to carry a lot of Irish hopes going to Cheltenham – including mine' (Members' Club)

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When you see him in a field he's unremarkable, but he stands out when he's on his own
E.W. Terms