‘Finished article’ Galopin shoots for Gold Cup double

By Sports Desk March 14, 2024

Galopin Des Champs bids to join the Prestbury Park immortals when he defends his Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup crown on Friday.

Willie Mullins’ stay stayer erased any stamina doubts with an ultra-impressive success in the blue riband 12 months ago, staying on strongly up the hill to finish seven lengths ahead of game runner-up Bravemansgame.

Although subsequently defeated by Fastorslow in both the Punchestown Gold Cup and when reappearing in the John Durkan, Galopin Des Champs firmly accounted for his reopposing rival when producing a dominant display in last month’s Irish Gold Cup, a victory which supplemented a clinical display at Leopardstown over the Christmas period and sees him head to the Cotswolds in peak condition.

The first time Paul Townend and Galopin Des Champs joined forces at Prestbury Park, the Irishman finished on the deck in the Turners Novices’ Chase as the then bold-jumping novice forfeited a 12-length lead when falling at the last.

However, the Closutton number one was handed plenty of plaudits for the way he nursed the eight-year-old to Gold Cup glory last year and with his mount now the ultimate professional, Townend is relishing the prospect of linking up once again.

“It was disappointing to get beat in the John Durkan but he was very good at Christmas and again at the Dublin Racing Festival,” said Townend.

“People had doubts about him (last year) and you always have doubts I suppose when a horse runs in the Gold Cup – until they stay, they don’t stay. We had confidence in him that he would stay and he did.

“Like us all, he’s getting older and wiser and a bit more laid-back and he’s developed into the finished article.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on him and it’s always exciting. I’ve had the horse underneath me (a few times) in the Gold Cup and you wouldn’t be anywhere without the horses and the rub of the green.”

Golden Miller famously won five successive Gold Cups in the 1930s, with Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate recording heralded hat-tricks in the Cheltenham Festival feature. But as a rule, back-to-back champions are a rarity in the modern era, with the great Kauto Star even surrendering his crown in 2008 before regaining the title a year later.

The outlier in the past 20 years is Al Boum Photo and now Galopin Des Champs has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious former stablemate and provide Closutton with their fourth Gold Cup in six years.

However, the trainer’s son Patrick Mullins believes there are few similarities between the pair, viewing the stable’s latest Gold Cup hero as a “superstar”.

He said: “They’re chalk and cheese a bit. Al Boum Photo very much had his own way of jumping. I remember schooling him one day in Punchestown after racing and Paul just said ‘close your eyes and trust him’!

“He broke Ruby’s leg one time and he fell at the last with David (Mullins) another. He wasn’t a flashy horse and didn’t work fantastically well, whereas Galopin Des Champs is a superstar.

“It’s a bit like Nicky Butt and Roy Keane, but Al Boum Photo won two Gold Cups. It feels to me like he was more a specialist horse for that race, whereas Galopin is a superstar of the sport.”

Martin Brassil knows all about the might of Galopin Des Champs, but his Fastorslow is the only horse to lower the defending champion’s colours in the past two seasons.

The eight-year-old is the general second favourite as he prepares to lock horns with Galopin Des Champs yet again, but his handler believes there is plenty of depth to a competitive Gold Cup.

“We’re looking forward to the race and it’s a really strong renewal of the Gold Cup,” said Brassil.

“They call it a wind operation but we’ve just cauterised his palate that’s all (since Leopardstown last month). There is more than one horse in the race and some really good Grade One winners in there, it’s a strong race that will take plenty of winning.

“He’s as entitled to be there as any of the others, though. The horse has travelled over great and has eaten and drank and stuff and it’s all system go.”

Gordon Elliott’s Gerri Colombe entered the season as a major Gold Cup player in the making and was disputing favouritism after making a winning return at Down Royal.

However, hopes were tempered somewhat when trailing some 23 lengths behind Galopin Des Champs in the Savills Chase at Christmas.

Asked how he can reverse that form with Galopin Des Champs, Elliott said: “We need a miracle, I’d say.

“He’s in great shape, he didn’t run his race at Christmas and it’s going to be very hard to turn that distance around, but we’ll see what happens.

“He was unlucky when he just got touched off here last year and it’s an open race if you take the favourite out of it.”

Owners Robcour have a second string to their Gold Cup bow in the form of Gentlemansgame, who made a successful raid on the Charlie Hall Chase in the autumn, downing Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame.

Mouse Morris’ gigantic grey heads to the blue riband on the back of just three chasing starts but would have a fighting chance of giving his handler a second Gold Cup victory if repeating his Wetherby heroics.

Ten-year-olds Jungle Boogie (Henry de Bromhead) and Monkfish (Mullins) are others from Ireland in the Gold Cup mix, representing the two trainers who have traded the last six runnings of the race.

The latter is a dual Festival winner who finally gets his crack at the main event having been seen just the four times since winning the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase here in 2021.

However, one who will not to be at the start is John ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s King George hero Hewick, who is likely to now head for the Randox Grand National after ground conditions curtailed Gold Cup hopes.

In a post on X, Hanlon said: “After walking the track this morning, we have decided Hewick will not run in the Gold Cup.

“While this is disappointing, we are doing what’s best for the horse”

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