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Mullins the epitome of grace after triumphant Friday and Gold Cup for the ages

Four wins on the final day at Cheltenham saw Willie Mullins named the Festival’s top trainer.

Willie Mullins and Paul Townend after winning the Gold Cup.
Willie Mullins and Paul Townend after winning the Gold Cup.
Image: Tim Goode

CALL HIM WHAT you want but, having battled serious illness, Joe Donnelly opted to go to Cheltenham for yesterday’s Gold Cup, 73 years young.

It cannot have been an easy decision, given the hysteria that prevails in his homeland, be that Ireland or France, where the owner of Al Boum Photo has resided since around 15 years ago.

It was in France that Al Boum Photo was sourced for Donnelly, who nearly won the Marsh with Melon and did win the Supreme with Shishkin, rendering his strike-rate here this week even more insane than Willie Mullins’ was today.

Donnelly is a low-key collector of some of the finest pieces of art in the world, be they on a wall or running around a field, and one can only presume that he made a calculated risk: never again might I see my horse win a Gold Cup. He was always different to the norm.

This was a race of the ages, last year’s winner providing Mullins with his second Gold Cup triumph and oh so narrowly denying Santini, with Presenting Percy a late faller and far too much else happening to give adequate coverage here.

Mullins was obliged to give his press conference in a side-room of the media tent and when the Foxhunter Chase began, in which he had a favourite’s chance of making it five winners from five today (with runners in the last two races), he was still in the press conference.

By the time he emerged, Billaway was making ground but they barely had two fences to jump. Imagine having a favourite for a race at Cheltenham and missing nearly all of the it!

Mullins, you see, is the epitome of grace, such that his pleasure in winning the opening Triumph Hurdle was diluted due to what befell Goshen. In probably one of the most extraordinary pieces of bad luck suffered in a horse race ever, Goshen – when miles clear the last – got his left front and back feet stuck together about the pastern area of the last and ended up unseating Jamie Moore after a fashion. Devastation for the rider and his dad, trainer Gary.

Mullins the trainer became Mullins the father. “I just feel very sorry for Gary and Jamie. I’m delighted we’ve won for our owner, but I feel hugely for Gary and Jamie, a father-and-son team.

“I know them fairly well; this was their one shot at a winner at the Festival and the work was done. I was just thinking of myself and Patrick and we’ve been there with Ruby [Walsh] as well. I know what it feels like. It’s not a victory I’m going to celebrate hugely: we got the rub of the green.”

cheltenham-festival-2020-gold-cup-day-cheltenham-racecourse A dejected Jamie Moore after his fall from Goshen. Source: Tim Goode

As I went up to congratulate Mullins on his day just after Billaway’s defeat, he was wondering who Eugene O’Sullivan, trainer of It Came To Pass, last won the Foxhunter’s Chase with (Lovely Citizen in 1991). Quite the reaction for a man who had very nearly made history in having five successive Cheltenham winners.

The Irish have had some spectacular Fridays at Cheltenham but it would be hard to beat this and similarly hard to beat the finish in the Albert Bartlett, Mullins’ Monkfish under Townend winning by a neck from Latest Exhibition and a further nose from Fury Road in a gang-of-green one-two-three.

After Chosen Mate landed a gamble in the Grand Annual, Willie and Gordon Elliott had seven winners apiece. There were many outlandish aspects to Cheltenham 2020, chiefly that there was a Cheltenham at all, and JP McManus went into the closing Martin Pipe having won every single handicap hurdle run at the Festvival, Saint Roi laughing at his foes (for Mullins, of course), in the County Hurdle.

Could it possibly happen?

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As it turned out, it could not, with the British finally winning one of the handicap hurdles, Indefatigable getting up near the wire. Those of us who have been here all week, constantly dealing with questions from home, hardly feel indefatigable now.

And what drama the race was, Mullins again profitting from a last-flight faller as Column Of Fire looked sure to win or finish second for Elliott, his misfortune leaving Mullins top trainer for the week.

I am now leaving a press room, the Irish contingent decimated, many of them deciding to go home or ordered to do the same. The repercussions are ahead of us all.

“I’m sure when we come home we’ll probably get a shock,” said Patrick Mullins last evening. 

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