Al Boum Photo retains Cheltenham Gold Cup crown as 10-3 favourite pips second-place Santini by a neck
- Al Boum Photo became the first back-to-back winner of the Gold Cup
- The 2019 winner travelled well throughout the race for jockey Paul Townend
If anyone doubted whether Paul Townend had the ability and the nerve to take over from the most successful jockey in Cheltenham Festival history, they know now.
For so long Ruby Walsh, who retired last year, was the king of Cheltenham with his 59 Festival wins.
A final day treble topped by a second successive Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo was proof, if it was needed, that Townend has slipped smoothly from understudy to main actor in the spotlight as stable jockey to powerful trainer Willie Mullins.
Al Boum Photo has joined the elite lists of horses to have retained the Cheltenham Gold Cup
Things might not have all gone to plan during the first two days of the Festival — the defeat of hot-pot Benie Des Dieux on Tuesday was painful — but Townend finished on a high and did not fluff his lines when the heat was really on.
On a day when only Indefatigable’s win in the concluding Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle prevented a green wash of seven Irish wins, Townend might have had to scrap his tactical Plan A but was always well placed in a Gold Cup where most of the 12 runners were still in with a chance turning for home.
In the end, 10-3 favourite Al Boum Photo held on by a fast-diminishing neck from Santini with Lostintranslation, who briefly jumped into the lead two fences out, a length-and-a-quarter further back in third.
Rachael Blackmore’s Monalee, was fourth, a best finish in the Gold Cup by a female jockey.
Victory meant Joe Donnelly-owned Al Boum Photo became the first back-to-back Gold Cup winner since Best Mate won three in a row between 2002 and 2004… and he is 5-1 to complete the hat-trick himself next year.
Al Boum Photo triumphed again for Willie Mullins and a delighted jockey Paul Townend
Al Boum Photo was also the first Irish-trained horse to land successive Gold Cups since L’Escargot (1970-1).
Mullins, who had to wait so long to win the most prestigious steeplechase in the calendar before Al Boum Photo scored last year, was keen to heap praise on his jockey.
The trainer, whose seven wins gave him a seventh top trainers’ title, because he had better placed horses than fellow seven-time scorer Gordon Elliott, said: ‘Ruby Walsh is a tough act to follow and Paul has stamped his authority on the job. He is Paul Townend, stable jockey to Willie Mullins and a top-class guy.
People said he was under pressure but Paul does his own thing. He rides better under pressure.’ Townend, who also won the Triumph Hurdle on Burning Victory and Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on Monkfish, said: ‘Last year was completely surreal and I suppose we snuck in under the radar a bit. This year all eyes were on us. It will take a while to sink in. I thought I’d never get a feel like last year again, but this is right up there. The best feeling in the world.’
If anything, the 2020 Gold Cup was remarkable for its lack of incident. There did not seem any hard luck stories. Presenting Percy looked held when falling two out, while King George VI Chase winner Clan Des Obeaux again looked like three-and-a-quarter miles stretched him.
Mullins admitted he had been confident before the race.
He added: ‘I’ve been thinking this year’s Gold Cup wasn’t as strong as last year’s which was tough. I came here with a fair bit more confidence. I had not seen anything all season I was afraid of.’ Before both his Gold Cup wins, Al Boum Photo has only had one previous run — winning at Tramore on New Year’s day.
Mullins revealed he will stick to the same plan ahead of the 2021 Gold Cup. With six winners at the meeting, Townend was crowned top jockey. Appropriately, he received the Ruby Walsh Trophy from the man himself.