Willie Mullins waited a long time to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup but, having finally got his hands on the prize he craved most last year, he was again the toast of Prestbury Park today after 100-30 favourite Al Boum Photo provided another picture-perfect moment.
In victory, Al Boum Photo became the first horse since the great Best Mate to retain the Festival’s showpiece and gave Midleton jockey Paul Townend a fifth win of the week, a success that saw him crowned the week’s leading jockey at the expense of Meath’s Barry Geraghty, who also had five winners, but lost out on placed finishes.
It also completed a 2196-1 four-timer for Carlow trainer Mullins, who was crowned the week’s leading trainer for a seventh time having helped Ireland to a 17-10 win over Britain in the Prestbury Cup.
A mammoth achievement was all the more remarkable for the fact that Mullins had to wait until the 14th race of the 2020 Festival to get off the mark.
“I was expecting a lot more from the first two days and it's tough,” Mullins admitted. “People expect us to have winners. We don't expect to have winners but we hope to have winners.
"It’s a big story when we don't have winners but you have to earn them. We just didn't have the luck on Tuesday. I self-medicated a lot that night!”
Come the Gold Cup, he was far happier, confident the light campaign he had opted for with Al Boum Photo would pay off.
“I thought he had a great chance,” he said. “Last year I thought it was a tough race but this time I thought it was winnable with a clear round and he won it. I suppose the light campaign paid off.”
For Townend, victory was equally as sweet.
“I thought I’d never get a feeling like last year again but this year was right up with it, it’s the weirdest feeling in the world, the best feeling in the world,” he said.
“This is huge, this is the main stage. Before this I was having a brilliant day, but this is the icing on the cake as the Gold Cup is the Gold Cup.”
There was more than a hint of good fortune about Mullins’ first win as Burning Victory cashed in on the last-flight fall of 5-2 favourite Goshen to win the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
In truth, Mullins’ 69th Festival win was almost certainly his most fortuitous as Goshen was miles clear when he clipped the top of the final obstacle to unseat jockey Jamie Moore.
“I feel like a bit of an imposter in here (the winner’s enclosure),” Mullins admitted. “These things happen, unfortunately.”
There was nothing lucky about Mullins’ next victory as Saint Roi powered clear to justify 11-2 favouritism in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle.
It was yet another handicap success for the green and gold silks of JP McManus, who ended the week as the leading owner with seven winners.
"I feel like a bit of an imposter in here. I'm very sorry for Gary and Jamie Moore."March 13, 2020
It also meant that jockey Geraghty ended the week with five winners from 11 rides, not bad for a 40-year-old.
Victory number three came in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle when 5-1 shot Monkfish provided Townend with the second leg of his final-day treble.
Mullins’ domination finally ended in the St James's Place Foxhunter Chase as 11-4 favourite Billaway ultimately had no answer for 66-1 outsider It Came To Pass, the biggest priced winner of the week, who was steered to victory by Maxine O’Sullivan, daughter of Cork trainer Eugene.
“All the big guns were queuing up behind but Maxine knew what she had, she rode him accordingly and I'm very proud of her,” the trainer said.
Meath trainer Gordon Elliott saddled his seventh winner of the week when Chosen Mate, ridden by Youghal jockey Davy Russell landed the spoils in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase.
Like Mullins, Elliott has seven seconds to go with his seven winners but he lost out to his great rival as today’s man of the moment had more thirds through the week.
There was just no beating Mullins today. Or Townend. Or Al Boum Photo.