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Irish Gold Cup 

In truth, there was never really a point in yesterday’s Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at which you thought that Galopin Des Champs was not going to win.

Expectation levels were high, as befits one of the most exciting steeplechasers in training, and as evidenced by odds of 30/100: far more likely to win than to lose.  Willie Mullins’ horse had earned his place at the top of the market for yesterday’s feature race on the first day of Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival with a body of work that included three victories as a novice chaser last season, including two Grade 1 wins, and a sparkling performance on his debut this season that saw him step into open Grade 1 company for the first time and land the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown.  

Indeed, his only defeat over fences before yesterday’s race was in the Turners Chase at Cheltenham last March, when he was miles clear when he came down at the final fence.

Defeat never looked likely yesterday, at no point did he trade at odds-against in-running.  He moved up nicely under Paul Townend as they raced to the end of the back straight, he jumped the second last fence well, and he travelled well in the slipstream of the leader Fury Road as they raced to the home turn.  It did take him a little while to master Fury Road, but he drew level on the run to the final fence, and he moved a length in front when his rival landed awkwardly that obstacle.  And when his rider went for him, he powered clear up the run-in, putting eight lengths between himself and his closest pursuer by the time he got to the winning line. 

“Paul was happy with where he was throughout the race,” said Willie Mullins.  “He was never worried at any time during the race.  What I love about Galopin Des Champs now is how he’s settling.  I think it’s just maturity.  He has matured in his mind and he’s settling into being a proper racehorse.”

Next stop for Audrey Turley’s horse is obviously the Cheltenham Gold Cup next month, for which he was already a short-priced favourite before yesterday’s race.  Bookmakers’ reaction in that regard was mixed, with several reducing his Gold Cup odds a little, several extending them a little, and others leaving them unchanged.  Sizing John is the only horse since Imperial Call in 1996 to win the Irish Gold Cup and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the same season. 

“There is a nice time frame between now and Cheltenham,” said Mullins.  “And, for me, any day you can win an Irish Gold Cup, it needs to be done.  We’re going to celebrate and enjoy today.”

There was much to celebrate too, because the champion trainer won two of the other three Grade 1 races on the day as well.  El Fabiolo was really impressive in winning the Goffs Irish Arkle under Daryl Jacob, while Gala Marceau led home a Willie Mullins-trained 1-2-3 in the Donohue Marquees Spring Juvenile Hurdle under Danny Mullins, exacting her revenge on her better-fancied stable companion Lossiemouth, who had beaten her when they had met at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, and who didn’t enjoy a great run through yesterday’s race.

The other Grade 1 race on the day, the opening contest, the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Novice Hurdle, was won by Good Land, owned and trained by Barry Connell, who moved to the front at the second last flight, and kept on well for his young rider Michael O’Sullivan to win nicely.

“We’re still only scratching the surface with this guy,” said the winning owner/trainer.  “He hasn’t missed a beat since he won here at Christmas, so we were very confident today.”

The two handicaps on the day went to trainer Gavin Cromwell via Percival Legallois and Final Orders, while the concluding bumper went to the John Kiely-trained A Dream To Share, who powered to an impressive victory under John Gleeson.

© The Sunday Times 5th February 2023