Reports17 March 2023

Epic Gold Cup lives up to expectations as Galopin Des Champs gallops to glory under brilliant Paul Townend

Paul Townend and Galopin Des Champs: winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Paul Townend and Galopin Des Champs run out sensational winners of the Cheltenham Gold CupCredit: Alan Crowhurst

A Gold Cup billed as an epic lived up to that expectation and more as Galopin Des Champs quashed doubts about his stamina by surging clear of Bravemansgame to secure a gloriously redemptive triumph for the indomitable team of Willie Mullins and Paul Townend.

Twelve months after his cruel final-fence exit with the Turners Novices' Chase at his mercy, the handsome seven-year-old justified 7-5 favouritism by an emphatic seven lengths. Those are the facts and they look unequivocal, but the path to this majestic destination required Townend to navigate the sort of landmines that could have blown the script to pieces.

A ragged start left Galopin Des Champs further behind than intended and the returning champion A Plus Tard, who he tracked down the inside at the back, had a tendency to jump across him. Stablemate Stattler also got in the way a little when retreating at pace before a circuit had been completed and Townend narrowly missed getting brought down when Ahoy Senor crashed while still in front six out.

However, the new and improved Galopin Des Champs is a much more tractable model than last season and Townend had a partner with whom he was able to work. Manoeuvring a fraction wider with a circuit to go had left them far enough out to avoid the Ahoy Senor incident in which Sounds Russian was brought down and A Plus Tard badly hampered.

That left Hewick in front and Shark Hanlon's contender was running a gallant race when he crashed out two fences from home. Again, having by then drifted back in behind horses for cover, Townend had just tracked out off the final bend on Galopin Des Champs and avoided the melee. Lady luck, having deserted him on the horse a year ago, was riding shotgun this time.

"It was very close," Townend said afterwards of the Ahoy Senor incident at the final ditch at the top of the hill. "We were landing on the back of horses early, horses going right and left in front of me, but he always found a leg. You need that luck. We didn't have it last year but we got it this year. It was very messy early on and he did well to get back into a rhythm."

Galopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame jump the last in the Gold Cup
Galopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame jump the last in the Gold CupCredit: Ryan Pierse

Given the quality of the line-up, anticipation surrounding the Gold Cup was off the scale. In the event, Prestbury Park delivered a race that filled the belly of a Cotswolds congregation hungry for something special. This really was a treat to feast on.

Bravemansgame played his part in that, coming there to challenge alongside Protektorat at the second-last fence. However, Townend had him in his sights and Galopin Des Champs had the move covered. The way the race unfolded mirrored Rachael Blackmore's tactics on A Plus Tard a year ago and Ireland's champion jockey was still perched motionless before they crossed that fence. They landed half a length down and, as soon as Townend squeezed his legs, Galopin Des Champs lengthened. He and Bravemansgame crossed the final fence in perfect unison before the winner turned the screw up the hill. It took a few strides to put daylight between them, but there was no doubting his superiority at the line.

A third win for both trainer and jockey following Al Boum Photo's wins in 2019 and 2020, this was a suitably regal end to the week for the Closutton maestro.

"I think we put ourselves under pressure by saying he has enough stamina to win a Gold Cup," admitted a relieved Mullins. "I thought he had enough class to win a Gold Cup, but when Al Boum Photo won a Gold Cup there wasn't a huge weight of expectation.

"But there was behind this guy. I didn’t realise how much pressure until about the third-last. He flew through it and then he came back on the bridle and I said, 'It's gonna happen, it's gonna happen'."

He added: "Through the race you're wondering, is he too far back? But I'd asked Paul to settle him, that they will try to sap his stamina and I said, 'You've got the best horse, you've got the fastest horse, you just ride him like you're on the fastest horse from the second-last home'. And that's what he's done. Paul is so good under pressure. And I've been putting him under fair pressure this week."

Galopin Des Champs
Paul Townend and Gold Cup winner Galopin Des ChampsCredit: Patrick McCann

It is ever thus with Mullins, but Townend has long proved his defiant capacity to deliver when the chips are down. His back was against the wall here after a mixed bag of a week, yet he emerges with the leading rider award and his reputation enhanced once more, not to mention the distinction that only Pat Taaffe has ridden more Gold Cup winners than him.

"This race," he said with that trademark cool disposition of his. "It's just different. It brings winning to a different level."

Of the route they had to endure, he added: "It wasn't clean sailing anyway, that's for sure. Everywhere I went I was running into a bit of trouble. His jumping got a little bit careful on the first circuit but going out I had full faith in him that he was going to get me out of trouble. And he did. He is a proper, proper horse because he's run about three different races and still won a Gold Cup."

A son of Timos, Galopin Des Champs is owned by Audrey Turley and her husband Greg, a Dublin-based businessman, who were in raptures afterwards.

"It's like a dream come true," gushed Audrey Turley. "It's like something I've never dreamed of. We never thought we'd be here with such a wonderful horse as Galopin Des Champs, winning the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. I don't know what to say, what to think. It's just so unbelievable and wonderful."

Minella Indo missed the start and never got going before being pulled up, and Blackmore also pulled up A Plus Tard when his chance was gone after being hampered. Conflated ran a blinder to be third after Sam Ewing was drafted in late to replace a "sore" Davy Russell, but Protektorat's challenge wilted up the hill. Noble Yeats, having been virtually tailed off at the top of the hill, kept on like a lion to somehow grab fourth, six and a half lengths behind.

It was an admirable effort from the Grand National winner in a captivating Gold Cup that reinforced the balance of power remains firmly located across the Irish Sea. Most of it, it seems, in Closutton, County Carlow. A hotbed for champions.

Read these next:

'As brilliant a ride as I've ever seen in any horserace' - McCoy heaps praise on Townend after Gold Cup masterclass  

How the 2023 Gold Cup unfolded at Cheltenham on Friday 

Gold Cup result: where your horse finished and who won  

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Richard ForristalIreland editor
Published on 17 March 2023Last updated 19:45, 17 March 2023