Maiden Gold For Mullins And Townend

Great climax to Cheltenham Festival

Trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Paul Townend teamed up to land their first winner in the £625,000 Gr1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday courtesy of 12/1 shot Al Boum Photo.

The seven-year-old son of Buck’s Boum travelled with menace throughout the three and a quarter-mile event and ran on gamely up the punishing Cheltenham hill to defeat Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly (22/1), ridden by Barry Geraghty, by two and a half-lengths.

Paul Townend and Willie Mullins hold the sought after Cheltenham Gold Cup

Al Boum Photo had run just once this season, capturing a Listed contest at Tramore over an extended two miles and five furlongs in January. However, Mullins was hopeful of a good performance from the gelding and he expressed his delight at finally landing Jump racing’s Blue Riband event.

Discussing the race, the Closutton maestro commented: “I’m delighted to win the Gold Cup and I’m also delighted that Paul has now won the race. It’s also brilliant for my owner [Marie Donnelly] who puts so much commitment into my yard.

“Every time I looked at Paul during the race, he and Al Boum Photo looked so well balanced and he was going along at a lovely rhythm. He was jumping well and at the fourth last Paul asked him for a long stride and he got it, so I started to think that there was a lot of petrol left in the tank. I know Paul’s body language and I knew entering the home straight that Paul had not gone for anything. There was a bit of daylight and it opened nicely. They got in a bit close to the last, but they met the last perfectly and I finally thought he was going to make it this year!”

Mullins has saddled the runner-up in six editions of the Gold Cup. Explaining the feeling of finally entering the winner’s enclosure in the iconic contest, he remarked: “I’ve had six seconds in the race and I had probably resigned myself to the fact that I probably would not win it. Lots of people in a number of sports never land the pinnacle event and racing has been very good to me. I’ve had a fantastic life in racing with fantastic staff and fantastic owners, so this is really the icing on the cake as I never expected to win this race.”

Reviewing Al Boum Photo’s seasonal debut at Tramore this season, the trainer said: “We were looking for soft ground with him and so we went to Tramore just to get some soft ground. There were only four racetracks at that time of the year that had soft or heavy ground in their description, so it was an important race for us really.”

Townend was aboard when Al Boum Photo inexplicably bypassed the final fence in a Gr1 contest at Punchestown in April last year when holding every chance, but Mullins explained there was never any doubt of Townend not riding the horse in today’s contest, with Ireland’s champion Jump trainer continuing: “The morning after that Punchestown race, the owners [The Donnelly’s] rang me to tell him that what happened was just a disappointing and nothing else. They had absolute faith in him and they’ve been in racing for a long time, so they know that these things can happen. They said to never worry and that’s why I’m especially delighted that Paul was on board to win the Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo.

“When we buy horses, I try to buy those who I think are going to be either Gold Cup or Champion Hurdle horses. We’ve been very lucky with our Champion Hurdle horses as we’ve had some fantastic winners of that event (Hurricane Fly 2011 & 2013, Faugheen 2015 & Annie Power 2016) and maybe I started to think that my method of training is more suited towards two-mile horses. We have had some nice staying chasers such as Hedgehunter who won the Grand National in 2005, but I did just start to wonder whether we were training our horses to be too fast for the Gold Cup.

“We liked Al Boum Photo’s pedigree when we bought him. He had the stamp of a chaser and there was so much stamina in his pedigree too and that is what we liked. We thought he could be a Gold Cup or Grand National horse and that is the dream when you buy these horses.”

Townend could become Ireland’s champion Jump jockey this season and today’s success was his 10th victory at The Festival in total and his second this week following Duc Des Genievres’ win in the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase on Tuesday. Reflecting on the race, Townend commented: “I wanted to ride Al Boum Photo as I just thought the ground would in his favour. The rain was coming and because it was going to be on the slow side, I thought that would be good for him as stamina is his forte. He had the form on his ground. It’s huge to win the Gold Cup. To come to Cheltenham and this event is what you dream of. We land here on the Sunday night and riding out here on the Monday, you can just feel the buzz. On the Tuesday morning, everything just goes up a gear again. I was lucky that I had a winner at the start of the week and you can settle into the meeting a bit more then. This place on Gold Cup just seems to step up another notch and it is some feeling to cross the line in front in that race. Everyone wants to be win a Gold Cup and to be as successful as Willie has been and to not win a Gold Cup was probably playing on his mind a bit. Willie is not going to panic and he is going to prepare the horses for the races they are going for. I’m very lucky that I was on his first Gold Cup winner.”

Townend was effusive in his praise of Mullins, remarking: “Willie’s Cheltenham squad for the meeting as a whole was not the biggest that we’ve had in certain years and to then go and win the first two races [Klassical Dream G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle & Duc Des Genievres G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase] set us up brilliantly for the rest of The Festival. If you are riding for Willie Mullins, whatever level it is at, you have a chance. Willie is incredible at picking races for horses and you know when he declares them that they definitely have a chance.”

The Irish rider also discussed the mishap aboard Al Boum Photo at Punchestown, explaining: “It was great that the Donnellys and Willie had my back after that race. Going into Punchestown the day after that race and for them to say not to worry was a huge thing for me. That’s all in the past now and he is a Gold Cup winner. Willie has guided me in the right way throughout his career. It is brilliant for me to be able to repay their faith. They just said after Punchestown to move on from it and to repay them with a Gold Cup is the best feeling in the world.

“I’ve grew up with racing all my life and I remember rushing off the school bus to try and make it home in time to see the Gold Cup. My memories of Cheltenham growing up are really Charlie Swan and Baracouda along with the great Best Mate. Racing is full of disappointments and you really have to enjoy the big days, but it’s important to keep as level as you can. It’s a brilliant feeling.”

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