Having notched up a record 65 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, top Irish trainer Willie Mullins finally scooped the biggest prize of the four-day meeting, the Grade One £625,000 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, with 12/1 shot Al Boum Photo.
“I thought I might never win a Gold Cup,” admitted Willie, after the seven-year-old French-bred — owned by Joe Donnelly and his wife Marie — rose to the occasion under Paul Townend, beating the Tony Martin-trained Anibale Fly (Barry Geraghty) by two-and-a-half lengths.
“I’m delighted, especially for Marie and Joe — they have put a big commitment into our yard, so it’s great to get one like that,” he added.
“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 — that’s the luck of the game. Every time I looked at Paul, he and the horse seemed to be in a rhythm, galloping away, looking so relaxed.”
The eye-catching Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained grey, Bristol De Mai, finished third, under Daryl Jacob, while last year’s Gold Cup hero Native River (Richard Johnson) finished in fourth.
“Native River was very slow getting out of the gate and I had to really niggle to get him up there. Then he got into a nice rhythm but was always asking me to help him,” said Richard Johnson.
“He has done nothing wrong. I just think he wasn’t quite on his game and in a Gold Cup you need to be 200%. He has still run a good race, but unfortunately it is not to be.”
‘I love this horse’
Champion point-to-point duo, trainer Phil Rowley and jockey Alex Edwards, claimed the biggest amateur prize of the Festival, when Hazel Hill justified favouritism in the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase.
The 11-year-old led before the last fence and drew clear up the hill, staying on well to beat Shantou Flyer (David Maxwell).
“That was unbelievable,” said Alex. “I love this horse — he has run 15 times and we’ve only just started to test him this year, he’s done it well today. I’m in a very lucky position to ride these horses.”
Top Irish jockey, Rachael Blackmore, rode her second winner of the week when landing the Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on 50/1 outsider Minella Indo, trained by Henry de Bromhead.
Rachael follows Bryony Frost, who yesterday became the first woman rider of a Grade One race over hurdles or fences at the Festival.
The favourite in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, Sir Erec, was fatally injured during the race and the Willie Mulllins-trained Invitation Only was fatally injured when falling at the 10th fence in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Don’t miss the full report from the Cheltenham Festival in the 21 March issue of Horse & Hound, plus read daily round-ups online.