A new age of staying chasers has been cast on horse racing as Galopin Des Champs put in a superb display of equine brilliance to land the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday.
Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old locked horns with King George-winner Bravemansgame up the famous Cheltenham hill in the blue-ribboned event, but it was the younger competitor who came out on top in a classic renewal of the £625,000 event.
Having infamously fallen at the final fence in last year’s Grade 1 Turners Novices’ Chase when clear favourite, something that was described as a “fright” by jockey Paul Townend, Galopin Des Champs built on his Irish Gold Cup victory from last month on the biggest stage of them all, running to a ‘Racing Post Rating’ of 184 and being given Timeform rating of 181.
???? That camera angle!
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 17, 2023
“We elected him as our Gold Cup horse where as Al Boum Photo sort of happened,” explained Mullins. “With this fellow we thought he was good enough and that puts you under pressure until the actual day when it has happened and now it has happened.”
“I didn’t realise what pressure I was under. I’m absolutely delighted for Audrey and Greg Turley and for Paul (Townend), who was under huge pressure to, but he gave him a peach of a ride. He had the confidence to drop him in and come through.
“I just said to him I think you are on the best horse and the fastest horse so as long as he doesn’t get running with you. He said he will tuck him in somewhere and put him to sleep and he did.
“It just worked out and he give him a brilliant cool ride. We thought that (it was going to be a true test) as everyone was questioning his stamina.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the clear odds-against favourite on the day, however, as he was out of rhythm in the early stages of the race and he dragged his hind legs through a few fences.
Legendary jockey AP McCoy described the ride Paul Townend gave the Galopin Des Champs as “brilliant a ride as I have ever seen” on ITV Racing and the winning rider had similar comments to share regarding the difficulty of the race.
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) March 17, 2023
“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,” the Irish champion jockey said.
“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.
“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.
“I was happy that when I grabbed hold of him and he picked up for me again, got straight at the last and galloped all the way up the hill and through the line. There’s no doubting his stamina now, anyway.
“He’s matured, he’s grown up, he’s a bit older, a bit wiser [than last year], and I suppose he surprised me how well he settled the first day [his seasonal debut] at Punchestown, and then going to Leopardstown, I was half-afraid to light him up to see what would happen, but I did away from the stands that day and he came back underneath me after a big jump, so he’s just the full package now.”
Friday’s success adds to the victories in 2019 and 2020 with Al Boum Photo for the ‘Master of Closutton’ and he feels there could be some more improvement to come from the hugely exciting Galopin Des Champs, as he said: “I think so (on seeing more improvement) as he is only seven and horses do improve until they are eight or nine – I’d like to think there is a little bit of improvement there.”
As for the second, Bravemansgame, he truly lived up to his name as he was a willing partner in what will be known as a classic duel between two masterful horses.
Despite finishing second, trainer Paul Nicholls was extremely pleased with the effort, as he said: “What can you say, I’m just super proud of him and everything went right. He jumped well and he travelled well and I could just see Galopin stalking him a little bit. We wouldn’t do any different.
“I hate coming second, you know me, but I can’t be anything but proud of the horse. He ran a blinding race and we’ll give it another go next year.
“We’ll see about Aintree – he had a hard race – and the only places he’ll run are Punchestown and Aintree, but we’ll play it by ear and see how he is. If he didn’t run again this season it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but he’s only run once since Christmas so we could go to Aintree.
“He’s a young horse, so three or four runs a year is plenty and if we don’t run again we’ll go Charlie Hall, King George and again here next year.”