Galopin Des Champs’ Gold Cup victory secures his place as Cheltenham’s latest legend

Galopin Des Champs’ Gold Cup victory secures his place as Cheltenham’s latest legend

Galopin Des Champs wrote his name into the history books with a supreme victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day of the 2024 Cheltenham Festival.

Heavily backed at odds of 10/11, the overwhelming favourite backed up his victory from last year with a confident, calm and controlled journey over the three-mile course and ran home by three-and-a-half lengths from Gerri Colombe.

The triumph capped off a superb week for trainer Willie Mullins, who had nine winners – including three on Friday – and jockey Paul Townend, who again took the title of leading jockey at the festival.

Mullins ended as the leading trainer at the festival while Townend drew level with Pat Taaffe as the only jockeys to lift the Gold Cup four times.

Throughout the week there had been a bubbling fear that Cheltenham was losing its relevancy, that the veil of its supremacy had slipped, and audiences were losing faith in its ability to deliver thrills.

Lower attendance figures on each of the opening three days fuelled that notion, although there were mitigating factors for the dwindling crowds, such as the cost of living crisis, rising on-course prices and the woeful weather forecast.

The dominance of Irish horses over the opening two days enforced a belief that the races were becoming predictable, with heavily-backed favourites winning regularly and hindering the joie de vivre of a trip to the festival. St Patrick’s Thursday switched up that narrative with a resurgence from the British contingents, winning five of the seven races, and the stage was set for a grand crescendo.

Perhaps it was always meant to be this way. Three lukewarm days, in terms of temperature and reception, lowering expectations ahead of the festival’s great showpiece.

Friday marked the 100th anniversary of the Gold Cup’s inauguration and the pre-race talk centred on one horse: Galopin Des Champs. Last year’s Gold Cup winner sought to become the latest horse to win consecutive races, following Al Boum Photo’s double triumph in 2019 and 2020. You need to go back to the early Noughties to find the horse who achieved the feat before him, when Best Mate won three in a row between 2002-04.

It is not an easy task to accomplish.

In the 100 years since it was first run only eight horses have won the Gold Cup more than once. Galopin Des Champs became the ninth.

He did it with style, too. The Real Whacker strode out in front and set an initially sharp pace before slowing down towards the end of the first circuit. Townend held Galopin Des Champs on the outer in third with his main rivals Fastorslow, Bravemansgame and Gerri Colombe fighting for position behind him.

In front of the grandstand, Bravemansgame moved up alongside Galopin Des Champs and drew cheers from those punters who’d backed last year’s runner-up, but the defending champion was not fazed.

With seven fences to jump, Fastorslow landed awkwardly over an obstacle and dismounted jockey Jack Kennedy, opening up the race. Bravemansgame looked hungry to challenge but didn’t respond when Townend made his move.

Galopin Des Champs took the lead with two to jump as The Real Whacker paid the price for setting the pace. A loud roar erupted from the stands as he safely cleared the last with Gerri Colombe attempting to make up the ground.

He couldn’t.

Galopin Des Champs was too strong, too stable, too classy to relent and throw away his moment of glory. The adulation began halfway down the final straight and carried on until he arrived in the winner’s enclosure. Gold Cup won, history made, legendary status achieved.

“Paul [Townend] was in the position he wanted to be in, and he just seemed to be travelling easily all the time,” said Willie Mullins after the race.

“He’s doing everything right; it was great to win a Gold Cup last year and we were crossing our fingers this year, if we got him there safe and sound we had every chance of winning, and he’s just done that. But you don’t believe those things, you dream of those things.

“Paul has really settled into the top job, hasn’t he? He’s a very different jockey and has a very different style of riding, but he’s really grown into it.”

The final day provided plenty of extraordinary excitement. Before Galopin Des Champs’ triumph, Mullins’ latest up-and-comer Majborough won the Triumph Hurdle and Townend pulled off a surprise when Absurde won the County Handicap Hurdle.

A photo finish was needed to secure Stellar Story’s victory in the Albert Bartlett before Sine Nomine won the Hunters’ Chase. Limerick Lace held off a challenge from Dinoblue in the Mrs Paddy Power Mares Chase before the festival concluded with a fine win for Better Days Ahead and Irish trainer Gordon Elliott in the Martin Pipe Conditional.

But be in no doubt that the day fully belonged to Galopin Des Champs. His victory injected some much-needed enchantment into the festival, elevating proceedings to magical status, and proving once again that this meeting truly is “the greatest show on turf”.