That’s what I call a horse race, that’s what I call a champion steeplechaser and that’s what I call a truly inspired ride.
In years to come, when people read the bare facts that Willie Mullins-trained 7-5 favorite Galopin Des Champs won the 2023 Cheltenham Gold Cup with Paul Townend on board, they probably won’t realize how special this win was.
On Tuesday we had witnessed the brilliant Constitution Hill land the Champion Hurdle without breaking a sweat. It was a display laced with elegance.
Friday was different. Galopin Des Champs was still exemplary, but this was a run where heart and guts were just as important. It was a brutal race.
Galopin Des Champs’ rivals knew their best chance of beating him was to test his unproven stamina during the Gold Cup’s three and a quarter mile journey. At any other distance, rival jockeys knew he would beat them. It was the angle they had to exploit and, boy, did they try.
Paul Townend was visibly emotional at the end of the race as he claimed his third Gold Cup
Usually a calm and composed figure, Townend celebrated lavishly aboard Galopin Des Champs
Going neck and neck in the final straight with Bravemans game Galopin Des Champs showed an irresistible turn
Townend had been instructed by Mullins to be patient, but those pre-race instructions must have seemed irrelevant to him when pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the jockey on track one.
Keeping his cool to gradually push back his slaving rivals, he joined the runners-up Bravemansgame at the last of the 22 fences and then pulled away from him in the climb to the line.
The ride gave Townend a third Gold Cup win – he was also successful on the Mullins-trained Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020 – and only Pat Taaffe, whose four wins including three on the legendary Arkle in the 1960s, has more driven.
The ride also earned Townend critical acclaim from a remarkable figure, 20-time champion jockey and two-time Gold Cup winner Sir Anthony McCoy.
He told ITV viewers, ‘That’s as brilliant a ride as I’ve ever seen in a horse race. Speaking of riding with a bottle. Oh my God. Talk about the fun, the privilege and the pressure – oh my God. He handled it better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Townend brushed off the praise, preferring to praise his horse. “It was messy for me,” said the jockey. “I couldn’t get a clean pass early and he kind of started jumping in the air.
“But when I got some space, he got back into the rhythm and was very, very brave. He got me out of a decent hole, to be honest.
“I was way further back than I wanted to be, but it was just the lift I had to give him.”
Many had questioned whether Mullins was doing the right thing by putting his gelding through the juice test yesterday instead of a shorter race, and the trainer admitted he felt the heat.
“It was because we had so much confidence in the horse and we thought we had a Gold Cup horse,” said the 66-year-old Mullins, whose total number of festival wins is now an astonishing 94.
“But a lot of people said he’s too fast and not enough stamina. What stood out was the pressure I put on myself. That was because we disagreed with everyone who said he wouldn’t stay. It would have been different if he had been a 10-1 shot, but he was a favorite.
“People supported him, believing I was right, I suppose. I was surprised when I got to the third last gate how much I started to feel it. But then I saw Paul back on the bridle and I thought, “This could happen.” I was amazed how much it meant to me.’
Ahoy Senor, trained by Lucinda Russell, applied the race pressure at the start. The pace was relentless and good horses took turns hoisting the white flag behind him.
The first to surrender was Irish Gold Cup runner-up Stattler, who was stopped before the 11th fence, then 2021 winner Minella Indo retired with one circuit to go. Last year’s winner A Plus Tard never threatened and was held back before the third last fence. By this time, Ahoy Senor, who still seemed to travel well, fell at the 17th hurdle and brought down Sounds Russian. As they ran to second to last, five horses were still in it until Hewick took a crushing fall.
Mullins looked elated after the conclusion of the Gold Cup – claiming his third triumph
Conflated, with Sam Ewing replacing the ‘aching’ Davy Russell, remained in third place with last year’s Grand National winner Noble Yeats taking fourth.
What Mullins liked most about the Galopin Des Champs effort was that it took Townend forever to pull him to his feet. There was still plenty in the tank.
At the age of seven, he has his best years ahead of him. That’s great news for the sport and if both horses stay fit we could have a blockbuster clash between Galopin Des Champs and Constitution Hill in the 2025 Gold Cup.
That would be a race worth making a long journey to see.
1 Galopin Des Champs (Paul Townend) 7-5 Fav
2 Braveman’s Game (Harry Cobden) 6-1
3 merged (Sam Ewing) 22-1
Opportunities courtesy of Paddy Power