Mullins acknowledged that he was feeling the pressure and said, “I was amazed how much it meant to me.”
Willie Mullins is the most successful trainer in Festival history, but prior to Galopin Des Champs’ victory in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup, the trainer admitted to feeling a level of pressure he had never experienced before.
The master of Closutton has made Prestbury Park his own in recent years. Prior to his most recent assault on the Cotswolds, his tally of 88 victories at the National Hunt racing showpiece put him far ahead of his peers.
Al Boum Photo broke that particular hoodoo in 2019 and successfully defended his crown a year later, the most coveted prize of all, which had been elusive to Mullins for so long.
Mullins has won four Champion Hurdles and two Queen Mother Champion Chases with Energumene, so he is used to big-race success at this point and rarely gets nervous. However, he admitted that he was nervous before and during his latest attempt to win the Gold Cup.
“I think what stands out is the pressure I put myself under. I was surprised actually coming to the third-last how much I started to feel it,” he said.
“When he went through the third-last and I saw Paul (Townend) back on the bridle again I thought ‘wow, this could happen’, and I was amazed how much it meant to me. I didn’t think it would.
“The pressure was coming from the fact that we had so much confidence in the horse. We nominated him for the Gold Cup, we thought we had a Gold Cup horse and lot of people were saying he wasn’t because he has too much speed and no stamina.
“There was pressure because we disagreed with everyone. So many people said he wouldn’t stay, which surprised me.
“It was our word against others and it wasn’t like he was a 10-1 shot. He was a hot favourite and people backed him in the belief that I was right, I suppose.”
Mullins’ claim that Galopin Des Champs possessed more than enough staying power to win the blue riband was proven correct once more.
The 7-5 market leader, riding the coolest of rides by Paul Townend, raced into contention going down the hill and pulled seven lengths clear of a valiant King George winner in Bravemansgame from the final fence in brilliant style.
Mullins won the 94th Festival with Galopin Des Champs, so he won’t have much of a chance of passing the century mark in the Gold Cup’s centennial year next March.
He insists that even he struggles to comprehend the situation he finds himself in, despite the fact that he could be forgiven for taking everything for granted at this point.
“It’s mind blowing. I can’t comprehend the numbers we have in training at home and I can’t comprehend the quality we have – it’s something no one ever dreamt of,” said Mullins.
“At one stage the top-rated horse I had was a 126-rated hurdler, which we nearly wouldn’t have in the yard now. We had 20 or 30 horses at the time and he was our Saturday horse.
“On the day I got my licence, if someone said to me I’d have 60 horses for the rest of my training career, I’d have grabbed that because none of the top trainers had more than 60 – Fulke Walwyn, Fred Winter, The Duke (David Nicholson), all those.
“You were lucky if you got a Grade One horse every year or you might get one every two years. What is in Closutton every day now – every night I go through the barns and pinch myself.
“We don’t take it for granted. Myself and my wife Jackie know what we have and we’re in awe of it as much as all you guys are.”
On the course, Townend’s ride, which also won him his third Gold Cup following his previous victories aboard Al Boum Photo, was widely regarded as one of the best in recent race history.
Galopin Des Champs was kept out of the heat of battle until the very last possible moment, despite the jockey admitting that this was not entirely intentional, despite the fact that many of his rivals fought for an early position.
He said: “I suppose he got me out of trouble to be honest – the first circuit didn’t go smoothly. He got into a nice rhythm on the second circuit and showed a lot of class to come from where he did.
“I was further back than I wanted to be after a messy start and a messy couple of jumps early, but luckily when I came down the hill and put the bit up in his mouth, he came alive underneath me.
“I had full belief in the horse. This year he has matured a lot and his work had been very good. He showed his true ability today.
“From where I was, I was always going to be the last one on the scene, luckily we met the last on a good stride and he galloped on through the line.
“I’m lucky to be throwing my leg over horses like this. The hardest thing in this game is to get on the horses. There’s a lot of lads capable of doing it and I’m in a fortunate position.”