Mullins pays tribute to 'special' Al Boum Photo as dual Gold Cup hero is retired

Al Boum Photo and Melon: popular Willie Mullins-trained stars were retired on Tuesday
Al Boum Photo and Melon: popular Willie Mullins-trained stars were retired on Tuesday

Willie Mullins paid a fitting tribute to Al Boum Photo for giving him "one of the best days of his entire career" after the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner was retired on Tuesday, while Paul Townend has spoken of the rollercoaster of emotions he experienced with the hugely successful staying chaser.

Al Boum Photo's racing days may be over, but he is set to embark on a new career as an eventer.

Mullins, the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history, had never won the Gold Cup until Al Boum Photo came along but all that changed in 2019 when he powered to a two-and-a-half-length victory over Anibale Fly in the hands of Townend.

The following year, he became the first back-to-back winner of the race since Best Mate in 2003 when bravely fending off the late surge of Santini, and he also finished third in the race in 2021.

Speaking to the Racing Post, Mullins said: "After years and years of trying, Al Boum Photo gave me my first Gold Cup. I thought it was never going to happen and then he comes along and does it twice! That is a fantastic achievement for any horse. He was very, very special.

"I was honoured to be involved with a horse like him and the first time he won the Gold Cup is up there as one of the best days I have ever had in racing. To win a Gold Cup is the pinnacle of any trainer's career."

The trainer added: "He was a tremendous servant but it was only really in the second half of his career that he began to bloom. He promised a bit in his early days but when we sent him over fences, he really took off and never looked back.

"I suppose you could say we tried to mind him and we campaigned him in as shrewd a way as we could. He didn't run too often but he has two Gold Cups so it paid off. He was a very sound horse and he retires fit and well.

"I wish him all the best in his new eventing career. I'm delighted he retired in one piece and he is so fit and well in himself that I would say he has plenty more years riding in him."

Townend was on board for both of Al Boum Photo's Gold Cup wins and he was also in the saddle for one of the most bizarre incidents ever witnessed on an Irish racecourse at Punchestown in 2018 when the pair bypassed the final fence of the Growise Champion Novice Chase in error when holding what looked a race-winning lead.

CHELTENHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 15: Jockey Paul Townend  on Al Boum Photo celebrates victory in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on Gold Cup Day at Cheltenham Racecourse on March 15, 2019 in Cheltenham, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Paul Townend aboard Al Boum Photo when winning the 2019 Cheltenham Gold CupCredit: Michael Steele (Getty Images)

Townend said: "I went through a rollercoaster of emotions with him. The two days he won the Gold Cup at Cheltenham were highs that I never thought I would ever experience. They were absolutely magic.

"There are just so many stories with this horse and me. We obviously won the two Gold Cups together, but I was on his back when Ruby [Walsh] turned around to me on Kemboy and told me he was retiring and then there was the day at Punchestown too [when they ran out at the final fence]. There are so many stories and so many emotions experienced. I'll never forget him."

When asked what made Al Boum Photo so good, Townend replied: "He must have had a huge engine because he was never a natural or flamboyant jumper but he still managed to win two Gold Cups. That takes some doing.

"His whole demeanour was fantastic. You'd see other horses prancing around the yard but he never caused any fuss and just kept himself to himself. He was a pleasure to have anything to do with and I owe so much to Joe and Marie Donnelly for sticking by me on him."

Watch: Al Boum Photo wins 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup

While Al Boum Photo will be forever remembered as a dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, he will be fondly remembered in County Waterford too as he made the Savills Chase at Tramore on New Year's Day his own in recent years, winning the last four runnings of the race between 2019 and 2022.

Al Boum Photo will join Louise Duffy, who has rehomed Grade 1 winners Assessed and Arvika Ligeonniere, both of whom have evented at an international level and won the George Mernagh Trophy for ex-racehorses at Tattersalls.

Duffy, who is based in County Meath, has for nearly 20 years been running a yard that specialises in the retraining of racehorses for secondary careers in other disciplines such as eventing and dressage.

Melon, a four-time runner-up at the Cheltenham Festival which included finishing second in the 2018 and 2019 Champion Hurdles, was also retired on Tuesday and will now embark on a team chasing and hunting career with Sophie Candy.

Mullins said: "He was a very good and sound horse. We campaigned him at the top table throughout his whole career and that is why he probably didn't win as many races as he could.

"Still, to be runner-up at four Cheltenham Festivals is a fantastic achievement in its own right."

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David JenningsDeputy Ireland editor