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Boum Time For Mullins In The Gold Cup


Paul Townend and Willie Mullins with the coveted Cheltenham Gold Cup | Racing Post

By Emma Berry

Willie Mullins may be the most successful trainer of all time at Cheltenham but the Festival’s most coveted prize has long eluded him. In his quest for the Magner’s Gold Cup of 2019 the trainer saddled four of the 16 runners and experienced the full gamut of emotions as the race unfolded.

Al Boum Photo (Fr) (Buck’s Boum {Fr}) ended the drought for Mullins and will enter the history books as the first Gold Cup winner not just for his trainer but also for jockey Paul Townend and owners Joe and Marie Donnelly. But the celebrations for his victory will be cast into shadow by the demise of Invitation Only (Ire) (Flemensfirth), who took a fatal fall at the tenth fence, bringing down Definitly Red (Ire) (Definite Article {GB}) with him, while Kemboy (Fr) (Voix Du Nord {Fr}) unseated David Mullins at the first and Ruby Walsh pulled up Mullins’s fourth runner, Bellshill (Ire) (King’s Theatre {Ire}) on the first circuit.

Following six runner-up finishes over the years, however, the trainer can be permitted a sense of satisfaction in finally landing the big one and also ending the 2019 Cheltenham Festival as the leading trainer with four winners.

He said, “I had probably resigned myself to never winning a Gold Cup, so I didn’t really obsess about it and get too disappointed about it. It’s like certain jockeys have never won the Grand National and others guys have never won a Champion Hurdle. Racing has been very good to me, I have a fantastic life in racing and I resigned myself to thinking that if I never won it then so be it. You get one chance at it every year, and this year when three of them were gone, I thought it was another year like that. So I probably had all my disappointment out of me early in the race.”

Mullins, whose father Paddy trained the last mare to win the race, Dawn Run (Ire), in 1986, continued, “I’m thrilled to win it, especially for my owners. Marie and Joe have put a big commitment into our yard, so it’s great to get one like that. And I’m absolutely delighted for Paul.”

He continued, “I actually thought Bellshill would take a lot of beating but Ruby was never happy with him and pulled him up early. Al Boum Photo was probably third or fourth in my pecking order coming into the Gold Cup, and at the top of the hill first time round he was number one. It was extraordinary—the other three were gone by the time they came to the second-last first time round. That’s the luck of the game, but every time I looked at Paul, his body language appeared to be very relaxed and the horse seemed to be a rhythm, galloping away.”

The Donnellys notched their first victory at the Festival by landing the biggest prize of them all, but they came close to taking another of the championship races on Tuesday when Melon (GB) (Medicean {GB}) was second in the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle.

“It’s great to have a winner and it’s great to have Willie’s first Gold Cup also,” said Joe Donnelly, whose wife Marie added, “Melon was so exciting the other day, but I’ve always loved Al Boum. It’s the way to go, right? Start at the top.”

The Gold Cup is always a supreme test of both class and stamina and as the field galloped off into the country for the second circuit, a repeat of last year’s nip-and-tuck battle between Native River (Ire) (Indian River {FR}) and Might Bite (Ire) (Scorpion {Ire}) looked to be on the cards. Despite being on the pace, however, the 2018 winner Native River never really looked to be travelling with the same fluency as he did 12 months ago and eventually weakened into fourth, while Might Bite was suddenly struggling as the runners turned for home and was pulled up by jockey Nico de Boinville.

Barry Geraghty, who had ridden a double on Thursday for JP McManus, conjured a notably flying finish from the same owner’s Anibale Fly (Fr) (Assessor {Ire}) to take second as the grey Bristol De Mai (Fr) (Saddler Maker {Ire}) also looked threatening, but neither could match the staying power of 7-year-old Al Boum Photo, who, after taking up the running just before the home turn, managed to hold his advantage to win by 2½ lengths.

“I got into a beautiful rhythm everywhere,” said a visibly moved Townend, whose previous partnership with the winner last April had ended in dramatic fashion when Al Boum Photo ran out at the last when leading in the G1 Growise Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown.

“I wasn’t where I wanted to be over the first two fences, but I got a couple of good jumps and, from there, everything just flowed for me. I had a bit of room and he jumped from fence to fence for me. He’s a real warrior and galloped right to the top of the line. There were horses struggling around me and it was just happening for me. I knew if I kept him upright that I had would have a good chance. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

The Sons Also Rise
Another trainer to have been tested by the twin impostors of triumph and disaster in the same afternoon was Joseph O’Brien, already an accomplished operator on the Flat in his short career and who celebrated his first official Cheltenham Festival winner on Wednesday with Band Of Outlaws (Ire).

O’Brien was fully expected to double that tally when he saddled the colt Sir Erec (Ire) (Camelot {GB}) for the opening race of the day, the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle. Sent to post as evens-favourite, the juvenile lost a shoe en route and was reshod at the start. Those moments of drama gave way to tragedy, however, as Sir Erec broke a foreleg in running and was euthanised on course.

The race was won by another grandson of Montjeu (Ire), the Nicky Henderson-trained Pentland Hills (Ire) (Motivator {GB}), who was making only his second starts over hurdles and whose success spread joy far and wide as he is owned by “thousands” of members of Owners Group 031.

O’Brien did, however, record a second victory in the final race, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, with Early Doors (Fr) (Soldier Of Fortune {Ire}), who brought up a fifth win of the week for JP McManus.

Speaking about Sir Erec, O’Brien said, “We’re devastated. It was well documented that he had a stone bruise in the week and we took a full set of x-rays two days ago just to make sure there was nothing going on, and they were perfectly clean. Mark [Walsh, jockey] just said that he jumped the hurdle awkwardly and landed awkwardly and then obviously he got injured.”

Early Doors was ridden to victory by up-and-coming young jockey Jonjo O’Neill Jr, whose father will be forever remembered in Cheltenham’s hall of fame as the rider of the great Dawn Run, the only horse ever to win the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup.

Paying tribute to his winning jockey, O’Brien added, “Jonjo gave [Early Doors] a great ride. He’s a fantastic rider. A couple of weeks ago I was talking to Frank [Berry, racing manager] and he said ‘would you rather run in the Coral Cup or the Martin Pipe and we could get Jonjo for the Martin Pipe’, so I said, ‘let’s have a go at that then’. He gave him a very patient ride and was very strong.”

Rachael Back For More
Barry Maloney’s Minella Indo (Ire) (Beat Hollow {GB}) returned the 50/1 winner of the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle to give leading Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore her first Grade 1 victory just 24 hours after Bryony Frost became the first female rider of a Grade 1 over jumps at the Festival. The now-retired Katie Walsh won last year’s G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Blackmore said, “I wish I had the words [to describe] riding a Grade 1 winner at Cheltenham. It’s just beyond belief. I am so grateful for everyone who has given me the opportunities to do this. You need to be on the right horse at the end of the day and I am the lucky person to be on those horses this week. I really am so delighted.”

Blackmore was recording her second victory of the meeting for trainer Henry de Bromhead, the pair having teamed up to produce a facile success with A Plus Tard (Fr) (Kapgarde {FR}) on Tuesday. That winner kicked off a good week for Cheveley Park Stud, whose recently increased involvement in the National Hunt world saw David and Patricia Thompson rewarded with two winners and a third place from five Festival runners.

Leading jockey honours of the week went to Nico de Boinville, whose Friday victory aboard Pentland Hills followed the Queen Mother Champion Chase success of Altior (Ire) and Coral Cup glory for William Henry (Ire).

“You have to remember that I’m riding for a genius of a trainer,” said de Boinville, whose enduing appeal is that his talent is matched by his modesty.

Record attendances at each day of the Cheltenham Festival led to an overall figure of 266,779 racegoers across the four days.

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