‘Special one’ Galopin Des Champs retains Gold Cup for Willie Mullins

Odds-on favourite becomes only the seventh horse to win back-to-back Cheltenham showpieces and Paul Townend joins Pat Taaffe as only jockey to ride four Gold Cup winners

Brough Scott

Friday March 15 2024, 9.00pm, The Times

Dig deep to top the century. Galopin Des Champs took this 100th Gold Cup by reaching to the very depths of his remarkable resources to repeat last year’s victory and slog home in the slowest time since Desert Orchid in 1989.

Galopin Des Champs is yet another Willie Mullins champion and one with no nonsense about him. He is a lean, hard athlete, his coat shining nearly black, his neck set out long and straight even at the walk. He might have been odds-on to beat these ten rivals but there were 22 fences and 3¼ squelchy, rain-sodden miles between him and a slice of history.

Sunshine on Cleeve Hill, memories for this scribbler of teenage days riding up there with Frenchie Nicholson’s string. Jockeys with faces set parading in front of the stands. So too several rather fit-looking security men with sharp umbrellas. Princess Anne was here by the obstacle. She knows what it is to thunder through the mud. At the Montreal Olympics she was piled into it.

Soon the 11-strong posse was rocketing towards us. A year ago Paul Townend had dropped Galopin Des Champs back to patrol his field. This time he chose to never let any leader off the leash. Sam Twiston-Davies, on The Real Whacker, led the gallop with leaps of six-hitting splendour, Charlie Deutsch and L’Homme Presse kept in close attendance, Jack Kennedy and Gerri Colombe were handy beside them, the rest of the field in a bunch with Derek Fox and the Grand National winner Corach Rambler out the back as the Lanterne Rouge.

This pattern continued for a full circuit and a half in the sunshine. To the outward eye uneventful but to the lungs galloping past whole gallons and gallons of air-sucking effort. Then towards the end of the back straight JJ Slevin on Fastorslow, the only horse to have twice bested Galopin Des Champs, had one of those nightmares that will haunt him for ever.

All circuit he had been lurking in the favourite’s wake but now, at this seventh from home, Fastorslow appeared to take the fence cleanly but, on landing, somehow managed to shift Slevin from the saddle and do a somersault on the bitterest of turf. Slevin may have been finished, the riderless Fastorslow anything but.

Freed of his jockey burden, he galloped easily alongside The Real Whacker and L’Homme Presse as they led the downhill charge with Galopin Des Champs shadowing them and last year’s runner-up, Bravemansgame, trying hard to make his mark.

Straightening up for the second last The Real Whacker was spent, the loose horse led between L’Homme Presse and Galopin Des Champs, with Townend making sure that the challenging Gerri Colombe was trapped along the rail.

A great leap at the last put Galopin Des Champs in charge with Gerri Colombe battling three lengths adrift and Corach Rambler at last on the rumble. But the riderless Fastorslow was still ahead on Townend’s inner. Loose horses at the last fence disturb jockeys’ dreams because they can change direction and wipe you out in an instant. Townend was not now a dreamer.

Three times he had come to this final jump on Galopin Des Champs as the leader. Last year he got a tremendous stride to win his duel with Bravemansgame. But in 2022 he had soared sweetly only to capsize on landing. This year the effort had been more gruelling but, loose horse or not, Galopin Des Champs would have total commitment.

With three great pumps of legs and body Townend threw his partner up, out and over. Ahead of him the loose horse drifted right but Galopin Des Champs’ long neck was set and the grinding rhythm of his gallop never faltered. Gerri Colombe kept on to be a three-length second, Corach Rambler nine lengths away in third, L’Homme Presse fourth, Bravemansgame fifth, Jungle Boogie sixth and the others pulled up in exhaustion.

Galopin Des Champs became only the seventh horse to have won back-to-back Gold Cups and Townend, who had done the same thing on Al Boum Photo in 2019, joins Pat Taaffe as the only jockey to have ridden four Gold Cup winners in its 100-year history.

“It was unbelievable,” said the jockey afterwards. “We rode him completely different to last year and he was so brave to me. We were in between at the last and I was afraid he didn’t have enough to go through with it, but it’s a Gold Cup and you have to.

“He was brave the whole way around and the loose one was interfering with us a bit and it was messy. What he found up the straight from the back of the last — you see so many horses get to the last and don’t get up the hill. He got up the hill last year but it was a different type of ride when we conserved everything. We did it the hard way this year.”

Townend was once again leading rider at the meeting just as the Festival century-maker, Willie Mullins, was among the trainers. He is a champion who does not have to boast and there was real warmth as he spoke of his four-legged partner. “He pulled out all the stops today,” he said of Galopin Des Champs. “We had to go for reserves there that only the really special ones have.”

In its first 100 years the Cheltenham Gold Cup has dealt us many moments to treasure. This writer’s catalogue began with Arkle and Mill House in 1964. But those of us lucky enough to be there on Friday can know that Townend and Galopin Des Champs were right up among the best of them.

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