Paul Townend and Al Boum Photo ended years of near misses for Irish trainer Willie Mullins as he captured the Cheltenham GOld Cup having finished runner-up six times
Cheltenham (United Kingdom) (AFP) - Irish trainer Willie Mullins ended years of frustrating near misses as Al Boum Photo won the blue riband of steeplechasing the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday.
Mullins – the most successful trainer at the Festival with 64 winners – had finished runner-up six times and it looked as if his luck was out after three of his runners failed to make it onto the final circuit.
However, superbly guided round by Paul Townend Al Boum Photo stormed clear at the final fence to hold off a fast-finishing Anibale Fly, who improved on his third in the same race last year.
“It is the one I have really wanted,” said Mullins, whose redoubtable mother Molly came into the ring on what was her 67th successive Festival visit.
“Racing has been very good to me I have a fantastic life through it I thought if we do not win the Gold Cup so be it what will be will be.
“It was not looking too good when we lost three on the first circuit every time I looked at Paul his body language gave me positive vibes,” added 62-year-old Mullins.
For Townend it was redemption as he had received a 21 days ban last season for trying to steer Al Blum Photo wide of the last fence when in the lead at Punchestown.
Mullins stayed loyal to him as did the owner Marie Donnelly and left Townend tearful after crossing the line.
“The first thing that went through my head was for Paul and how great it was for him to wipe away those memories,” said Mullins.
Townend, who is on course to be crowned Irish champion jockey witrh his closest challenger Rachel Blackmore, was in tears after crossing the line.
“I thank the owners so much and Willie,” said Townend.
“It’s the Gold Cup there is only one a year that is why it is so special.”
For the horse’s owner it was her first winner at the Festival, although she too has had some close shaves.
“Thats the way to go start at the top!” she smiled.
Bristol de Mai took third, defending champion Native River stayed on for fourth after Richard Johnson had the devil of a time to roust him at the start.
“He just wasn’t the same horse as last year,” said Johnson.
Hot favourite Presenting Percy may have paid for his unconventional preparation in just having one run over hurdles as he never threatened.
“Never got going,” said Presenting Percy’s jockey Davy Russell.
“Things did not fall his way, that is how it is.”