Paul Townend gets it right in big race as Galopin Des Champs lands Irish Gold Cup

Willie Mullins critical of champion jockey after Lossiemouth’s earlier Grade 1 defeat at Leopardstown

Galopin Des Champs appeared to read the big-race script perfectly and delivered on his short odds in Saturday’s Dublin Racing Festival feature.

The 3-10 favourite powered home from the final fence in the €250,000 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup to highlight a 38-1 Grade 1 hat-trick for Willie Mullins on Day 1 of Leopardstown’s weekend extravaganza.

A massive official attendance of 18,121 was returned, up over 5,000 on the corresponding 2022 figure.

Once again, the power of the Mullins team dominated proceedings with El Fabiolo also massively impressive in the Arkle and Gala Marceau leading home a stable 1-2-3 in the Juvenile Hurdle.


Notable among both results though was Paul Townend getting it wrong before eventually getting it right with a vengeance in the big race.

Having finished out of the money in the opening Grade 1 won by Good Land, the champion jockey endured a nightmare passage in the Juvenile Hurdle on the heavy odds-on favourite Lossiemouth.

The 1-3 favourite, owned by Rich Ricci, was on the inside and wound up shuffled to the rear of the field after the third last when Ricci’s outsider Jourdefete dropped back suddenly.

Townend was forced to make his run on the outer and got bumped even wider on the turn in.

Lossiemouth tried hard but her stable companion Gala Marceau, who she had beaten well at Christmas, was gone under Danny Mullins and won by two and a half lengths.

Despite having won the race, and despite his normal tendency towards reserve when it comes to criticising jockeys, Mullins didn’t hide his irritation.

“Paul got into a lot of trouble, but the winner is a good filly and she’s improving all the time. “That [same ownership] was the disappointing part about it. Paul said to me he got done three times.

“I just hope it doesn’t leave its mark that she had such a hard run from the third-last home. She put in a huge effort for a juvenile filly and that might just leave a mark.

“That’s what I’m really worried about. I would have been happier if Paul had maybe just been hands and heels. The writing was on the wall, so what was the point in hitting her?

“He has to have a go to try to win, but to me unless Danny’s made a mistake at the last he wasn’t going to get to that one,” he said.

To compound things, Townend picked Appreciate It from five options in the Arkle and had to settle for third as Daryl Jacob enjoyed a 10-length success on El Fabiolo.

Having bounced back from much tougher reverses in the past, Townend’s resilience again came to the fore in the Gold Cup.

Everything he could have wanted from Galopin Des Champs he got: the horse settled as well as he jumped and was in Position A to challenge on the turn-in.

Momentarily Townend looked like having to get serious to get past Fury Road who drifted onto his rival on the run to the last but then blundered his chance away.

However, it was from the last that Galopin Des Champs looked to cement his Gold Cup claims Cheltenham next month.

Asked to extend, he quickly put eight lengths to his stable companion Stattler and once again took a considerable amount of time to pull up once through the line.

Townend admitted afterwards he wasn’t overly bothered about pulling up so keen was he to savour the moment.

However, he said: “I loved the feel I got from the back of the last to the line.

“Last year he was brilliant and exuberant, but this year he has matured a lot and was there any time I wanted him.

“What he did at the last, with the intimidation he was getting, and what he did from there to the line impressed me.”

Asked about earlier reverses, he commented: “The beauty of riding for Willie is [Lossiemouth] was forgotten about when I went out for Appreciate It. That didn’t go to plan either, but this makes up for it.”

It was a first Irish Gold Cup for the rider but a 12th for Mullins.

Bookmakers appeared underwhelmed by Galopin Des Champs who’s now a 7-4 favourite to become the first since Sizing John in 2017 to complete the Gold Cup double at Cheltenham.

That will be the furthest the exciting seven-year-old has raced but Mullins’s response to whether or not he has stamina doubts was unequivocal – “None.”

He said: “Hopefully we can build on that now over an extra two furlongs in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

“I was amazed that the press were doubting the fact that he had never won over three miles over fences – he had won over three miles as a novice over hurdles which is way harder than doing it over fences. To me, he can go four miles.

“What I love about him now is that he’s settling, he’s not keen and Paul is able to put him wherever he wants him in a race. That’s crucial for tactics going forward.

“He used to be a little keen over shorter trips, but now he just settles and he’s able to put him asleep. I think it’s just maturity, he’s matured in his mind and he’s settling into being a proper racehorse.”

Mullins added: “We’re more relaxed training him now, we know he has gears. I was always confident that he’d stay and we probably don’t do as much speed work with him nowadays.

“We’ve had some fabulous horses win the Gold Cup here. This fella is making a name for himself, he’s still young in steeplechasing terms and where he’ll be at the end of his career, we’ll see. It’s all going forward at the moment anyway.

“A lot of people skip this race to go for Cheltenham, but for me any day you can win an Irish Gold Cup it needs to be done!”

El Fabiolo was a neck runner up to Jonbon over hurdles at Aintree last season and a mouth-watering rematch between the pair looks on the cards in Cheltenham’s Arkle.

If bookmakers currently give Jonbon a slight edge, more examination of El Fabiolo’s performance will perhaps encourage Irish fans.

Having run keenly early, Daryl Jacob blamed himself for a serious blunder at the fourth last, yet despite all that El Fabiolo still eased into a challenging position on the turn-in.

Like Galopin Des Champs though, it was what he found from the last in such circumstances that looked exceptional.

“The one negative [was] when we made the mistake, but Daryl blamed himself for that, he said it wasn’t the horse’s fault.

“Then he came back on the bridle again and I thought ‘this horse is travelling’ and he just did everything right.

“Some very good horses were second, third and fourth so to win 10 lengths in that type of a race, he’s goes to Cheltenham with a real good chance,” Mullins considered.

Barry Connell’s 25-horse operation is dwarfed in comparison to Mullins but he has a second Grade 1 winning novice on his hands after Good Land’s success in the Nathaniel Lacy Hurdle.

Jockey Michael O’Sullivan couldn’t use his 5lb claim but just as with Marine Nationale in December’s Royal Bond at Fairyhouse it made no difference to the outcome.

A 3-1 favourite Good Land looked in control for almost all the race and won by a length and a half from Absolute Notions.

Connell will point him at Cheltenham’s Ballymore while Marine Nationale will contest the Supreme.

“”I think we are still only scratching the surface with this guy,” the owner-trainer said.

“The big plus with him is that he’s seven years of age. It’s a big advantage for these horses to have that age on their side. He’s bomb-proof and you could see him walking around beforehand like he was at a kid’s gymkhana.

“Marine is the same, the two of them are brilliant. We are a small operation, we have 25 horses, and we’ve had two entries in Grade Ones this season and won them both.

“He [Good Land] is not slow, I won the Albert Bartlett before with Martello Tower and it is quite hard on novices. I prefer the Ballymore. He could drop back to the Supreme if something happens to the other guy but I would need to supplement him.”

On O’Sullivan he added: “He’s a find, he’s ice cool and a brilliant horseman. He rides all of ours and I’m delighted. It doesn’t matter if he claims or not.”

Action concluded with a popular success for 85 year old trainer John Kiely whose A Dream To Share successfully conceded weight all-round in the Grade 2 bumper.

Gavin Cromwell’s Final Orders completed a rare five-in-a-row in the handicap chase.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column