“I had probably resigned myself to never winning a Gold Cup” admits Willie Mullins

Willie Mullins wins the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo. Credit: Patrick McCann/Racing Post.

Ireland’s top National Hunt trainer, Willie Mullins, has finally won the Cheltenham Gold Cup following the success of Al Boum Photo, with Paul Townend aboard, in Friday’s centrepiece on the Cotswolds.

The Closutton handler who had saddled 26 runners in the race, including four yesterday, admitted:

“Not winning the Gold Cup used to bug me. The first, second, third one and then the fourth – then I was thinking maybe it is not to be. I have been lucky enough to win a Champion Hurdle, a Stayers’ Hurdle and I was delighted to win the National with Hedgehunter. Racing has been very good to me. I have some fantastic owners in my yard and some fantastic staff, a wonderful wife in Jackie who runs the yard, so racing has been good to me.”

The Cheltenham Festival’s leading trainer of all-time with 65 winners added:

“We’ve had placed horses, obviously, but it’s nice to get one on the board. The early ones were probably disappointing, but you get used to it. I had probably resigned myself to never winning a Gold Cup, so I didn’t really obsess about it and get too disappointed about it. It is like certain jockeys have never won the Grand National and others guys have never won a Champion Hurdle. Racing has been very good to me, I have a fantastic life in racing and I resigned myself to thinking that if I never won it then so be it. Sometimes trainers train certain types of horses in a certain way and maybe it wasn’t a Gold Cup way, even though we were so close, so I thought maybe it’s not to be. You get one chance at it every year, and this year when three of them were gone, I thought it was another year like that. So I probably had all my disappointment out of me early in the race. I’m thrilled to win it.”

Mullins has saddled the runner-up in six editions of the Gold Cup. Explaining the feeling of finally entering the winner’s enclosure in the iconic contest, he remarked:

“I’ve had six seconds in the race and I had probably resigned myself to the fact that I probably would not win it. Lots of people in a number of sports never land the pinnacle event and racing has been very good to me. I’ve had a fantastic life in racing with fantastic staff and fantastic owners, so this is really the icing on the cake as I never expected to win this race.”

The Co. Carlow-based trainer thought Bellshill was his best chance this year of claiming National Hunt racing’s greatest prize:

“I actually thought Bellshill would take a lot of beating but Ruby [Walsh] was never happy with him and pulled him up early. Al Boum Photo was probably third or fourth in my pecking order coming into the Gold Cup, and at the top of the hill first time round he was number one! It was extraordinary – the other three were gone by the time they came to the second-last first time round. That’s the luck of the game, but every time I looked at Paul, he and the horse seemed to be a rhythm, galloping away, looking so relaxed, and when he came to the top of the hill when he wanted a chop he gave it to him and I thought, this horse has got plenty left in the tank. I didn’t know how much but I said he’s got something there if he keeps jumping.”

Commenting on this year’s winner, Al Boum Photo, the son of the legendary trainer Paddy Mullins said:

“Every time I looked at Paul during the race, he and Al Boum Photo looked so well balanced and he was going along at a lovely rhythm. He was jumping well and at the fourth last Paul asked him for a long stride and he got it, so I started to think that there was a lot of petrol left in the tank. I know Paul’s body language and I knew entering the home straight that Paul had not gone for anything. There was a bit of daylight and it opened nicely. They got in a bit close to the last, but they met the last perfectly and I finally thought he was going to make it this year!”

The top handler, who also saddled Bellshill, Invitation Only and Kemboy in this year’s race, continued:

“The horse (Al Boum Photo) has been good and sound, and we didn’t get another run because there was no ground to run him on. Credit to all the staff in the yard who ride him out every day and look after him. I am delighted for everyone. I asked Paul what he wanted to do and he said that he was going to jump out, get a position and hope that he would be able to keep jumping and get him balanced. From an early stage, Paul had him in a rhythm jumping, with the reins relaxed and the horse doing it all. Every time he needed a squeeze, Paul was there to give him one and the horse responded. When you get into that sort of a rhythm in a race, it’s fantastic, and you just hope you don’t get any traffic problems.”

When asked how he would celebrate his first win in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, Mullins said:

“When Dawn Run won the Gold Cup [in 1986, trained by Mullins’ father Paddy] I didn’t get home for three or four days, and it might take a bit longer this time, but we’ll see. Between Ascot, here and Melbourne, we’ve been hitting the board the whole time, so I am very proud for the whole yard and all my owners who give huge commitments to our yard. It’s a victory for them as well.”

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