Galopin Des Champs proves his class in classic Gold Cup
Galopin Des Champs justified favouritism and all the hype to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, with jockey Paul Townend declaring "the horse doesn't know how good he is".
Trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins, his third success in chasing's blue riband, Galopin Des Champs (7-5) proved too strong for Bravemansgame, the King George VI Chase winner, with Conflated in third.
As Townend, 32, struggled to get a clean passage in the early stages on the winner, Scottish raider Ahoy Senior was jumping for joy out in front until falling out of contention six out, bringing down Sounds Russian in the process.
Another prominent player, Hewick, crashed out at the second last, leaving only seven of the 13-strong field to complete a race which celebrates its centenary in 2024.
Over the last of the 22 fences Galopin Des Champs had forged to the front from Bravemansgame, with Mullins' high class seven-year-old passing the famous Cheltenham finishing post seven lengths to the good of Paul Nicholl's runner, with Conflated six and a half lengths further back.
"He didn't get a clean path early, but when I got a bit of room he came back into rhythm for me, he was very brave," said Townend, who was on board Al Boum Photo, Mullins' back-to-back Gold Cup hero in 2019-2020.
"The start was very messy, and we missed one of the fences coming down off the hill.
"But he was straight back on the bridle, the horse doesn't know how good he is!" added the Festival's leading rider with this his fifth win over the four days.
Galopin Des Champs had underlined his claims for Gold Cup glory with success in the Irish equivalent, but arguably his greatest claim to fame was when buckling to his knees after jumping the final fence with a novice chase at last year's Festival at his mercy.
There was thankfully to be no repeat drama this time.
Reflecting on last year's hiccup Townend said: "He's matured, grown up, a bit older and a bit wiser like us all.
"He's the full package now."
Mullins paid tribute to Townend's big race tactics.
"I had asked Paul to settle him and ride him like the fastest and best horse and that's what he's done," said the Irish maestro.
- 'All about stamina' -
"I was wondering if we'd overdone it a bit at the halfway stage but they were pouring it on at the front.
"It's all about stamina and getting him switched off and Paul has ridden him like that."
Retired 20-time jump jockey champion Tony McCoy was full of praise for Townend's performance in the saddle.
"As brilliant a ride as I have ever seen in a horserace -– talk about riding a horse with bottle. Oh my god," said McCoy, who won the Gold Cup twice.
Last year's Grand National winner Noble Yeats finished a running-on fourth in an eye-catching performance as he prepares to defend his Aintree crown next month.
Two that failed to fire were the Henry de Bromhead-trained duo A Plus Tard, the winner last year but pulled up this time by Rachael Blackmore, and Minella Indo, Gold Cup champion in 2021 who also failed to complete the stamina-sapping three mile, two and a half furlong (5300m) circuit nestled in the Cotswold hills in Gloucestershire.
This was a fifth Grade One victory of the week for both Mullins and Townend -- and if the equine gods keep smiling on Galopin Des Champs, Mullins hopes he will be back in 12 months' time to defend his crown.
"We won the Gold Cup this year, and you'd like to think we'd come back next year and be favourite and win it again," he said.