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Leopardstown live

There was a point in yesterday’s Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, just on the crown of the home turn, when Fastorslow moved up on the outside of leader Galopin Des Champs and manoeuvred himself into a position from which he could challenge.  But, just as he did, Paul Townend gave Galopin Des Champs a squeeze, and his horse rose to the challenge.  The Willie Mullins-trained gelding was still a length in front when he rose to the final fence and, momentum up, he powered up the hill under a hands-and-heels ride from Townend to put four and a half lengths between himself and his rival by the time he got to the winning line.

These two have previous.  They were poles apart in the public’s perception when they met for the first time in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown in December 2022, Galopin Des Champs sent off the 2/9 favourite, Fastorslow allowed go off at 66/1, the outsider of the field, and they finished as the market predicted they would, Galopin Des Champs first, Fastorslow over 20 lengths behind him.  Martin Brassil’s horse exacted his revenge last April, however, when he won the Punchestown Gold Cup, beating Galopin Des Champs by over two lengths, and he took the score in their private duel to 2-1 when he won the 2023 renewal of the John Durkan Chase last November, with Galopin Des Champs almost two lengths back in third.

Fastorslow didn’t run after that before he lined up in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown yesterday.  He was a late defection from the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, a race that Galopin Des Champs won doing handsprings.  And it was on the back of that performance that they put Willie Mullins’ horse in as the short-priced favourite for yesterday’s race.  The 2023 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, the 2023 Irish Gold Cup winner, Audrey Turley’s horse consolidated his position as the best staying steeplechaser in training yesterday with an irresistible performance that was laden with class.

Paul Townend was decisive from the start.  He sent the Timos gelding into the lead from flagfall, and he was never headed.  JJ Slevin sat quietly in behind the leader on Fastorslow, and superior jumps at several fences allowed him close up in behind. He closed to a length as they raced around the home turn, but it was at that point that Galopin Des Champs picked up again, went on again on the run to the final fence and cleared away up the run-in.

“It was a terrific performance,” said trainer Willie Mullins.  “He did it the hard way, out in front and jumping from fence to fence.  He set his own pace, which is hard to do on soft ground.   But Paul made sure he was going to go fast enough to try and suck the energy out of the ones in behind, and that is what he did.”

It was a 13th Irish Gold Cup for the trainer, who won the race for the first time in 1999 with Florida Pearl, and it was a second for rider Paul Townend, who was repeating last year’s victory on Galopin Des Champs.

“He was very good today,” said the winning rider.  “He popped out and popped along in front, and he was there when I asked him.  He’s back to himself.”

It was a memorable day for trainer Willie Mullins, who mopped up all four Grade 1 races on the day, with Dancing City winning the opening Nathaniel Lacy and Partners Novices’ Hurdle, Kargese leading home a Willie Mullins-trained 1-2-3-4 in the McCann Fitzgerald Spring Juvenile Hurdle, and Il Etait Temps quickening up smartly and getting the better of a duel with Found A Fifty, that saw him get home by a neck from Gordon Elliott’s horse in the Goffs Irish Arkle.  The three other Willie Mullins-trained Grade 1 winners were all ridden by Danny Mullins on what was a red-letter day for the rider.

“Danny was just on fire today,” said the champion trainer.

Gordon Elliott did get on the scoresheet for the day when he sent out Maxxum to win the listed three-mile handicap hurdle under Carl Millar, while Emmet Mullins landed the concluding bumper with Jeroboam Machin, ridden to victory by Derek O’Connor.  And the only British-trained runner on the day, the Sophie Leech-trained Madara, continued his progression when he landed the Listed Ryanair Handicap Chase under James Reveley.

© The Sunday Times, 4th February 2024