Galopin to Glory in the Gold Cup

CHELTENHAM, UK–Resplendent in bright green on St Patrick’s Day, Audrey Truly clasped the Cheltenham Gold Cup as she chatted with Princess Anne while her face bore a look of disbelief. The owner could be forgiven if the enormity of the relatively smooth victory of her 7-year-old Galopin Des Champs (Fr) (Timos {Ger}) in jump racing’s most prestigious race was yet to sink in. 

Exactly a year ago the sleek dark brown gelding appeared to be about to back up his first Cheltenham success in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle with victory in the G1 Turners Novices’ Chase when, with a 12-length lead in hand, he crumpled on landing over the final fence. With three more confidence-restoring Grade 1 wins to his credit since that luckless day, including the Irish Gold Cup, Galopin Des Champs has now added the big one to the Gold Cup roll of honour, his name permanently etched on the list of winners including such greats as Golden Miller and Arkle.

His victory left no small amount of drama in its wake as the long-term leader Ahoy Senor (Ire) (Dylan Thomas {Ire}) fell at the 17th fence, bringing down Sounds Russian (Ire) (Sholokhov {Ire}) in the melee, after the 2021 winner Minella Indo (Ire) (Beat Hollow {GB}) had already cried enough and been pulled up early in the second circuit. Last year’s winner, A Plus Tard (Fr) (Kapgarde {Fr}), representing the resurgent Henry de Bromhead stable, could not match his heroics of 12 months ago, and he too was eased down by Rachael Blackmore as the leaders started to draw away with three left to jump. Most heartbreaking of all was seeing the game Eclipse Award winner Hewick (Ire) (Virtual {GB}) make a bold go from the front after Ahoy Senor’s departure, only to fall himself at the second-last fence.

Thirteen starters had faced the judge and only seven crossed the line. Galopin Des Champs was simply too good for the best of the British contenders, Bravemansgame (Fr) (Brave Mansonnien {Fr}), whose faultless round, and particularly his never-say-die effort at the last under Harry Cobden, could leave his supporters dreaming of Gold Cups to come for the 8-year-old after he finished seven lengths adrift in second. Conflated (Ire) (Yeats {Ire}) posted a similarly solid performance to take third for Gordon Elliott and the Gigginstown House Stud team, while last year’s Grand National winner, Noble Yeats (Ire) (Yeats {Ire}), who looked beaten a long way out, called upon his great reserves of stamina to rally to take fourth for Emmet Mullins.

Usually unflappable and once again the leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival with six winners across the four days, Willie Mullins nevertheless admitted to some nerves as he watched Paul Townend guide Galopin Des Champs to the stable’s third win in the Gold Cup.

“I didn’t realise what pressure I was under,” he said. “I’m absolutely delighted for Audrey and Greg Turley and for Paul, who was under huge pressure too. He had the confidence to drop him in and come through.

“They were going to plenty fast enough so I didn’t want him up in there in the early stages. I thought if he has the class he will come through. All thoughts were going through my head; one or two fell and we missed all that, so we had a lot of luck as well. I think that man on board when the pressure comes on he is very good. I was surprised myself how I was over the last two fences.”

Mullins added, “He has that little bit of class: you could run him over two miles, two and a half miles. He has that little bit of speed when you want it. You just have to conserve it. Over those shorter trips he likes to get on with the job and that was to me the whole key today, not to let him get running early on in the race.”

Stay Away Fay Stays All Day

Despite having to settle for second in the Gold Cup, Paul Nicholls had made his second visit to the winner’s spot this week earlier in the day when Stay Away Fay (Ire) (Shantou) took advantage of a bizarre last-flight run-out by favourite Corbetts Cross (Ire) (Gamut {Ire}) to win the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

“He’s a very smart young horse, and he’ll improve for the summer,” said the champion trainer. “I knew he would win turning in, because he’s a very, very strong stayer. Well, I hoped he’d win, because I knew he wouldn’t stop.

“He looked fantastic and to me he ran how he looked. That was only his third race under Rules and there’s lots of improvement to come from him.”

French Fab Four 

It is hard to imagine anyone ever repeating Michael Dickinson’s extraordinary feat of training the first five home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but Willie Mullins is rarely short-handed in the major races and he got Gold Cup day off to the perfect start when being responsible for the first four home in the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle. 

The favourite Lossiemouth (Fr) (Great Pretender {Ire}) had been beaten just once in her nascent career and she made amends for that blip when second at Fairyhouse last month by overhauling her conqueror that day, stable-mate Gala Marceau (Fr) (Galiway {GB}). That pair was followed home by two more familiar faces in Zenta (Fr) (Pastorius {Ger}) and Gust Of Wind (Fr) (Great Pretender {Ire}), making it a quartet of French-breds to the fore in the juvenile contest. 

To put Mullins’s feat in context, he saddled seven of the 15 runners for the race he has won in three of the last four years. 

While Lossiemouth’s owner Rich Ricci appeared to pour cold water on the idea of the smart filly switching to staying races on the Flat, he did leave the door open for another of his stars to be seen on the level this summer.

“I think she has got enough boot to go on the Flat but my view would be to go to Punchestown and put her away for next season. She is only four so maybe in two years’ time she will go for the Champion Hurdle, depending on Constitution Hill and the rest of the field. You are asking me the same question that Willie asked me about going to the Flat with her and I’m not sure we have to. Vauban is a better question, to go on the Flat with him, because he has a good Flat rating.”

French-bred jumpers have been particularly prevalent this week at Cheltenham, with the feature races on three of the four days falling to Energumene (Fr), Sire Du Berlais (Fr) and Galopin Des Champs. Exactly half of the 28 winners at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival were bred across the Channel. 

Impervious Delights Small Breeder O’Doherty

The Colm Murphy-trained Impervious (Ire) (Shantou) gave owner JP McManus his first of two winners on the day when turning over the hot favourite Allegorie De Vassy (Fr) (No Risk At All {Fr}) on the run-in in the G2 Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, in turn providing a truly memorable result for her small breeder Tom O’Doherty.

“I’m absolutely over the moon,” said O’Doherty, whose sole broodmare is Impervious’s dam Blodge (Ire) (Kalanisi {Ire}).  “My sister bought Blodge at the Tattersalls sales in 2017. A lot of people won’t know, but Impervious’s grand-dam Bilboa (Fr) was placed in the [2002] Champion Hurdle, so it came out somewhere.”

He continued,”I saw Blodge win a point-to-point in Ireland a long, long time ago and she came from a very good family. She came from a very good place, the Kenilworth House Stud in Clonmel, and I love the pedigree. Bilboa was a feisty lady as well. She’s inherited all of it.”
O’Doherty added. “It’s been wonderful. Little did I think when I sold my foal for €4,000 that JP McManus would end up buying her and she would end up winning at Cheltenham.
“I saw two fences, I could not watch, my heart was in my mouth even though she is a fantastic jumper. I knew she wouldn’t let me down. Once she got into battle, I knew she’d outbattle the rest. She’s a terrier, and the mare at home is a terrier as well.”

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