Donn's Articles » Galopin Des Champs returns

Galopin Des Champs returns

Galopin Des Champs missed the kick in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.  It was a messy start, the line wasn’t perfect, are they going, are they not, and suddenly they were off.  Over the first two fences and away from the stands, and Galopin Des Champs was 12th of the 13 runners.  It wasn’t ideal.  Rider Paul Townend didn’t want to lead or anything, but he didn’t want to be second last.

You take your medicine and you ride your race, you give your horse the best chance that you can from the position that you have.  The Cheltenham Gold Cup is run over three miles and two and a half furlongs, more than two circuits of Cheltenham’s galloping track.  It’s a long way.  Lots of time for lots to happen.  Position is important, but so is racing rhythm, and Paul Townend allowed his horse settle into his.  He was further back than he wanted to be, but they were going fast up front, no relenting, and he was happy that his horse was relaxed beneath him, conserving energy.

Townend is Ireland’s champion jockey, he has been leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival three times now, he had the confidence to sit and allow the race develop in front of him.  

He avoided the trouble along the inside when Ahoy Senor fell at the fence at the top of the hill, and he closed on the leaders on the run down over the third last fence and to the final bend.  He was only fifth as they rounded the home turn, but he was travelling better than the four horses who were in front of him.  He made his ground over the second last fence and he moved up easily on the run to the last.  Bravemansgame went with him, and the crowd had the race that they wanted, the duel, the Irish Gold Cup winner versus the King George winner, Mullins versus Nicholls, Townend versus Cobden.

Both riders saw the stride on the run to the last.  Both horses saw the stride too, and they both lengthened on the approach to the obstacle.  They met it in unison and they both landed running.  The crowd roared and settled in for the ebb and flow that would go with the duel up the famous hill that would inevitably ensue but, in the end, there was no duel.  In a couple of strides, Galopin Des Champs had gone a length up, two lengths up.  By the time he got to the winning line, he had gone seven lengths clear of his rival and into the record books.

Galopin Des Champs was favourite for the 2023 Cheltenham Gold Cup from a long way out.  He had all the attributes: a top-class young horse on the up who had the pace to win Grade 1 races over two and a half miles and the stamina to win an Irish Gold Cup over three, and who had excellent Cheltenham Festival form.  And he had Willie Mullins and Paul Townend in his corner.

Audrey Turley’s horse is ante post favourite for the 2024 Cheltenham Gold Cup too, no bigger than 2/1 and as short as 6/4 in places.  It is correct that he is favourite, he is the most likely winner of the race at this point, insofar as there is a most likely winner of any race four months out, but history tells you that it is not going to be easy.

It is not a coincidence that only two horses have won back-to-back Cheltenham Gold Cups since L’Escargot won the race in 1970 and in 1971.  Many have gone close.  The Dikler, Bregawn, Charter Party, The Fellow, Jodami.  Kauto Star won the Gold Cup in 2007, finished second to Denman in 2008 and won it again in 2009, when he beat Denman into second place.  A Plus Tard finished second to Minella Indo in 2021 and won it in 2022, Minella Indo won it in 2021 and finished second to A Plus Tard in 2022.  But only two horses have achieved the feat in over 50 years.

The Gold Cup is a gruelling contest.  Three miles and two and a half furlongs against the best staying chasers in the business, and up that final incline.  The race is not easily won, the winner usually has to dig deeply into energy reserves, often more deeply than he or she has had to dig ever before.  Recovery can take time.  

Galopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame both ran in the Punchestown Gold Cup at the end of April, and they were both beaten by Fastorslow.  The winner is a high-class performer, Martin Brassil’s horse was obviously under-rated going into the Punchestown race, and he is probably still an under-rated horse, but it is also probable that both Galopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame under-performed at Punchestown. 

Galopin Des Champs has lots in his favour, mind you, including the fact that he is trained by Willie Mullins.  It is not a coincidence that the champion trainer also managed the career of Al Boum Photo, one of those two horses who confounded the stats.

Galopin Des Champs started off his campaign last year in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase, then won the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February before going to Cheltenham, and Willie Mullins said last week that he had a similar campaign in mind this year.

If it ain’t broke.

This year’s John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase is today. It will be good to see the Gold Cup hero return.

© The Sunday Times, 26th November 2023