Mystical Power fended off the renewed challenge of Firefox to win the TrustATrader Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.

Trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Mark Walsh, Mystical Power has long carried plenty of expectation as a son of Galileo out of Champion Hurdle winner Annie Power.

He came close to emulating his dam as a Festival winner when finishing second in last month’s Supreme and finally graduated to Grade One glory here.

Walsh was happy to settle in the pack through the early stages as Lookaway raced to the fore, but with three to jump, Mystical Power (11-10 favourite) was clearly travelling best of all.

He took it up before jumping the last from Firefox and while that rival battled back gamely on the run to the line, Mystical Power was half a length too good.

Sir AP McCoy has nominated I Am Maximus as the horse he would choose to ride in this year’s Randox Grand National.

McCoy, who famously won the National at the 15th attempt on Don’t Push It, is now an ambassador for William Hill, who arranged a video montage on the St John’s Beacon in Liverpool city centre to celebrate the race.

While he may have been champion jockey 20 times, he admits that had he never won the National, he would have retired with a sense of unfulfillment.

“I love Liverpool as a place, the people make it special. It’s the most famous race in the world and for that reason it is very difficult to win. I had a lot of goes before I was lucky with Don’t Push It but it is the people of Liverpool who make it special,” said McCoy.

“They really buy into it, they make the atmosphere, all three days, and it is top-class racing.

“It was just relief when I crossed the line on Don’t Push It. I’m not from a racing family but just like all other non-racing families, the one race you take an interest in every year is the Grand National.

“From a young age, it was the race I knew the most about and from that point of view, it made it more special. When I walk down the street and people say ‘what do you do’, the next question is always ‘did you win the Grand National?’ and I would hate to say ‘no, I didn’t’.

“It’s gone down to 34 runners this year but does that take anything away from it? I just think it will make it harder to win because there are a lot of good horses in it.”

For the second half of his career, McCoy rode as retained rider for JP McManus, who owned Don’t Push It, and he is still involved in an advisory capacity now.

McManus runs five in Saturday’s race, but McCoy is certain which horse would be his pick.

“I think you could make a case for all five, but I Am Maximus would still be my choice,” he said.

“With the ground conditions the way they are, I think it is really going to suit the Willie Mullins horses. I know they go on any ground but they go particularly well when the ground is soft or heavy.

“I Am Maximus has won an Irish Grand National, he’s won the Grade One Drinmore Novice Chase and he won the Bobbyjo last time, which is a really good trial for the National – and with Paul Townend riding him, he ticks a lot of boxes, he’s a class horse.

“You could have easily gone for Meetingofthewaters, he ran really well in the Ultima, which Corach Rambler won last year, he’s on a really nice weight, so he has a lot going for him.

“Mark Walsh has chosen Limerick Lace, she won well at Cheltenham and has a touch of class. Capodanno ran in the race last year, when he was disappointing, but I think he’s a much better horse this year and he won the Cotswold Chase in January, so I could see him running well as well.

“But if I had to pick, it would be I Am Maximus.”

The ground is set to be testing on Saturday but likely not as bad as in 2001, when Red Marauder was one of only four finishers, and two of them had to be remounted, with McCoy getting back on Blowing Wind having been unseated – a move that would not be permitted now.

“The race Red Marauder won, I remember going out on the last circuit and there only being five or six of us left, 30-odd had gone. I genuinely believe that Blowing Wind would have won the Grand National,” he said.

“I remember Ruby (Walsh) was on Papillion and we could see this loose horse coming, he looked across at me and both of us had nowhere to go. Blowing Wind was a clever horse and was never going to take a risk.

“Because they had their names on the number cloths, there was no fear of getting on the wrong one, because there were seven or eight loose horses around us, but I remember thinking there was still a chance Red Marauder and Smarty might not even get round.

“There was £50,000 for third for the owners, so while it was a memorable race, it might not have been for the right reasons for me.

“We haven’t had ground like that since, but I think it could make it more exciting.”

Despite achieving all he did in the game, McCoy still felt the tingles when arriving at Aintree for the race, and arguably the length of time he had to wait before finally winning made it all the more sweeter.

“For 14 years before I won, I used to always think I was going to win the National when I arrived on Saturday morning and by Saturday evening, I left thinking I was never going to win it!” he said.

“Better jockeys than me never won it – John Francome, Peter Scudamore, Jonjo O’Neill, Harry Swann – and no disrespect meant, but there were a lot of lads who won it who were a lot worse than me, which was how I used to make myself feel alright about it. When I won it, there was a lot of fulfilment.

“I was too stupid to think I was never going to win it, though!”

Impaire Et Passe had to survive a lengthy stewards’ inquiry before being declared the winner of the William Hill Aintree Hurdle.

Willie Mullins’ evens favourite rounded the final bend on the bridle but did not run straight to the line as both Langer Dan and Bob Olinger threw down their challenges in what was a thrilling finish to the Grade One contest.

Impaire Et Passe appeared to cross Langer Dan’s path after the last, while Bob Olinger also seemed to drift inwards on the run to the line, leaving Langer Dan sandwiched between them.

The judge was required to split the trio as they crossed the line, with Impaire Et Passe coming home a nose in front of Bob Olinger, with Langer Dan a further short head back in third,

A stewards’ inquiry was soon called, but Impaire Et Passe was eventually confirmed the victor.

Cheltenham Festival runner-up Kargese follows a familiar route for Willie Mullins in the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree on Thursday.

The Closutton handler has claimed this Grade One contest twice in the last seven years, with both the sensational 2016 victor Apple’s Jade and last year’s heroine Zenta picking up minor honours in the Triumph Hurdle prior to striking gold on Merseyside.

His latest challenger is a pea out of the same pod having found only stablemate Majborough too strong at Prestbury Park last month – and while Nicky Henderson’s unbeaten Triumph absentee Sir Gino is a major threat, connections of Kargese are quietly confident about her chances.

“If she’s come out of Cheltenham well, which the team at Closutton seem to think she has, she must have every chance,” said Peter Molony, racing manger for owner Kenny Alexander.

“She just needs to learn to settle a little bit. I would upgrade her run big time in the Triumph as she basically fought for her head the whole way round and never really settled. Before the last she looked like she was galloping all over the winner and then she just got tired.

“I know the winner is very good, but I think she definitely would have got closer to him if she had settled better, so if she can settle on Thursday we’d be very hopeful.

“She’s a very nice mare who owes us nothing as she’s had a great year already, but we rate her pretty highly so hopefully she can settle and we’ll have a good run.”

Sir Gino looked every inch a top-class prospect after winning his first two starts for Nicky Henderson, particularly when dominating his rivals in a Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham in late January.

The French import disappointingly missed the Triumph Hurdle itself during what was a difficult week for his trainer, but that does at least mean he will be fresh for his latest assignment.

“It was sad he couldn’t run at Cheltenham because, to be fair, there was nothing wrong with him but by the time we got to the Friday I’d completely lost my bottle altogether,” Henderson told Unibet.

“I didn’t dare run him. I think he’s a very good horse and we’re going to find out sooner or later. He looked very good on Trials day at Cheltenham and his work recently has been up to that standard.

“He’s been round Auteuil so the ground shouldn’t worry him.”

Similar comments apply to the Paul Nicholls-trained Kalif Du Berlais, who is two from two since arriving in Britain and has been saved for Aintree since landing the Adonis at Kempton in February.

“He’s a horse with a big future and maintained his unbeaten record with a determined success in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton under a 5lb penalty,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“It was always the plan to miss the Triumph Hurdle and wait for this race at Aintree. We’ve deliberately given him time and although this is a step up in class for him, he seems be improving physically and I think he is in better shape than he was before his last run.”

Joseph O’Brien saddles both Triumph Hurdle fourth Nurburgring and his stablemate Intellotto, who was last seen landing a small-field conditions event at Limerick.

Syd Hosie’s rank outsider and hurdling debutant Dirty Den, down the field in the Champion Bumper last month, completes the field.

Owner Audrey Turley reported Galopin Des Champs to be on course for the Punchestown Gold Cup after seeing her Got Glory hit the target at Naas.

Galopin Des Champs followed up last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph by losing out to Fastorslow at the Punchestown Festival but will try to pull off the double this term at the start of next month.

The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old powered to victory at Prestbury Park again when galloping on gamely up the hill to beat Gerri Colombe by three and a half lengths under Paul Townend.

Regarding a return to Punchestown, Turley said: “I think that is the plan and I think he’s doing good, so fingers crossed he’ll run.”

Reflecting on the gelding’s second Cheltenham Gold Cup success, she told Racing TV: “We’re watching it on the loop at home and we can’t get enough of it, to be honest. And the more you watch it, the more you enjoy it.

“He’s a superstar horse, he really is. The whole team are superstars and it’s just been a privilege to be involved with it. We’re thrilled and feel very lucky.

“It’s terrifying to watch (at the time) and I can’t watch it, but I really enjoy it afterwards when I watch it back. It was an incredible experience and it’s hard to put words on it – excitement, nervous, the anticipation, it’s all there and it’s all wonderful.”

After winning on her debut in France back in July 2021, Got Glory spent 636 days on the sidelines before being pulled up in last year’s Grade One Honeysuckle Mares Novice Hurdle first time out for Mullins.

Following another 361-day lay-off, she made an impressive reappearance when scoring by five and a half lengths at 4-7 in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Maiden Hurdle, with Townend in the saddle.

“It was very satisfying and she ran so well,” said Turley. “I think Paul makes it look very easy but over the last three years, she’s been injured quite a lot and it’s lovely to see her back on the track and winning the race. It’s incredible and really nice for her.

“We’ve had patience with her and it worked out in the end – she’s a beautiful horse, a beautiful mare and we’re delighted to be here having her running, let alone winning. It’s a real thrill.

“I think she looked fine and in good form, so I’d say she’ll run again pretty soon, maybe at Galway.”

Townend commented: “She was fresh and gassy and wanted to get on with it, but the engine is in there, we just have to keep the wheels on the bus.

“She’s a fine filly but has just had a lot of problems. The owners were patient, she does smart work and hopefully we can keep her right.”

Mousey Brown caused her second big upset in the space of two weeks when winning the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Handicap Hurdle Series Final at Fairyhouse.

A winner at Down Royal at 25-1 last time out, she was sent off at 33-1 on this occasion for Dermot McLoughlin and Conor Maxwell.

The Gold Cup-winning team of owner Audrey Turley, Willie Mullins and Paul Townend looked sure to collect with Olympic Man when he took the final flight in front, but Mousey Brown stayed on strongly to get home by half a length.

“Everyone said she was lucky the last day in Down Royal but she was nearly knocked down and still won,” said McLoughlin.

“As Conor said, she’s very tough. She wasn’t enjoying the ground but from the back of the last she came home well. He said she started pricking her ears and looking around her.

“It was a good performance in a good race. I thought it might be a bit soon bringing her back after Down Royal, as it was only 13 days.

“She’s hardy, Conor said it’s hard work out there but she’s game.

“I like her, she had to do a lot of work from where she was there, but kept going. She’s a big, strong mare.”

Effernock Fizz was a game winner of the RYBO Handicap Hurdle, also at 33-1.

Having built up a big lead at one stage, she looked sure to be swallowed up at the second last but found plenty on the rail to fend off Conyers Hill for Cian Collins and jockey Carl Millar.

Collins said: “That’s unbelievable, she has the heart of a lion.

“She’s a mare that wants good to firm ground-wise. On the ground, I didn’t think it would happen today at all, I thought she might even pull up on heavy ground.

“She gave me my first two winners and that’s my 20th today. I thought she was gone turning in but she just doesn’t know when to quit. It’s crazy.

“I was very lucky to get her. She just suits the way we train them, I keep her fresh. I actually ride her out every day myself, she’s always in great form and is a pleasure to have. She tries her heart out every day and just loves racing.

“I think we might go for the Scottish Champion Hurdle now. That’s the plan and we’ll probably go straight there, as it’s in a couple of weeks’ time. That’s her 96th run today and her 10th win.”

Mullins and Townend also had to settle for second best in the Listed-class BoyleSports Mares Handicap Chase with Instit after Ardera Ru finished well to prevail by three and threequarter lengths at 18-1 for trainer Eoin Doyle.

Winning rider Shane O’Callaghan said: “She was brilliant. The plan was to drop in, creep around and try to sneak a bit of black-type.

“It’s the best she’s ever jumped for me, she jumped fantastic everywhere and cruised into it very easily.”

Anthony McCann looks to have a hot prospect on his hands after Familiar Dreams galloped on strongly to complete a hat-trick in the closing Irish Stallion Farms EBF Total Enjoyment Mares’ INH Flat Race at 13-2 under Aine O’Connor.

The five-year-old was giving weight away all round due to a double penalty but put in a powerful effort from the front to pull five and a half lengths clear of the Mullins-trained favourite Magic McColgan.

Galopin Des Champs was once again welcomed home by an adoring crowd as the dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner paraded before locals in the village of Leighlinbridge in County Carlow on Tuesday evening.

Victorious in the pinnacle of National Hunt racing last year, this time the Willie Mullins-trained gelding was able to take his career to the next level when becoming one of a select few to retain the title.

The 11-10 favourite under Paul Townend, Galopin Des Champs never looked threatened by any of his rivals and it was only the loose Fastorslow that ever threatened to thwart a repeat of last year’s triumph.

Victorious by three and a half lengths from Gordon Elliott’s Gerri Colombe, the Audrey Turley-owned eight-year-old has put his name among the greats of the race and next year could join the likes of the mighty Arkle and Best Mate as a three-time winner.

Galopin Des Champs was joined by State Man, winner of the Champion Hurdle in a another memorable meeting for Mullins, with his nine-winner haul including his 100th Festival success when Jasmin De Vaux took the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Having dominated the Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins has set his sights on the Boylesports Irish Grand National on April 1 – with unexposed novice Nick Rockett likely to be all the rage.

The champion trainer is seeking a third win overall in the richest jumps’ race run in Ireland and back-to-back victories after the unlikely success of I Am Maximus 12 months ago.

Nick Rockett has been allotted 10st 13lb in the weights by handicapper Sandy Shaw, with Gordon Elliott’s Galway Plate winner Ash Tree Meadow top of the pile.

Three Cheltenham Festival victors are towards the top in Corbetts Cross (11st 10lb), Inothewayurthinkin (11st 9lb) and Limerick Lace (11st 7lb), but having kept his powder dry, Mullins might just have the ideal candidate.

“Nick Rockett has performed well around Fairyhouse and I love horses for courses,” said Mullins.

“Paul (Townend) was very happy the last day he won around the course and we thought instead of going to Cheltenham that we should maybe aim for Fairyhouse. That’s what we have been doing and we are very happy with how he is.

“He jumps, has won over the track, is a novice coming up the ranks, has a nice weight and Paul is very happy to ride him. That is more than enough and he ticks all the right boxes, I think.

“We have to get him there in the right order and at the moment I am very happy with him.”

Regarding his other entries, Mullins said: “This race comes into play for Stattler now, if he’d run at Cheltenham (Cross Country Chase was abandoned) he would maybe have gone to Aintree, but he’s now in the running to run here.

“Monkfish was disappointing at Cheltenham so wouldn’t come here, Mr Incredible only ran the other day so it’s too close, the same with Adamantly Chosen. Embassy Gardens and James Du Berlais the same.

“Bronn was disappointing in Naas, but if I could get him back right he could go there. Minella Cocooner has run well there, has the credentials, stays all day and has a nice weight as well.

“Ontheropes is 36 (on the ballot) but I think he is more or less in and is our other likely runner.

“It took us a long time to win it. My father had won it four times so it was an itch that needed scratching and then winning it with Burrows Saint for Rich Ricci and with Ruby Walsh, that capped it.

“It gave me as much pleasure as winning any race.”

For Shaw, Mullins’ comments have him “shaking in his boots”.

“An awful lot handicap themselves and it is obviously the novices that we look to as they are the ones that have more improvement in them,” he said.

“The three Cheltenham winners are in but we can reassess them, the difference is that Willie’s Nick Rockett didn’t go – he has me shaking in my boots the way he’s talking!

“He’s been held back and it was certainly the right thing to do, I think. Novices are always hard to rate because you have to rate them on what they have done, not on what we think they might do so there is a chance Nick Rockett could be well handicapped.

“The only thing is he has only run seven times in his life. He’s unexposed as a result, but it will be a question of if he can handle the hurly burly of the race. Other than that he does look the one. He could have a few pounds up his sleeve, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Mister Policeman ensured Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Willie Mullins and Paul Townend kept the bandwagon rolling with Grade Three glory in the Pierce Molony Memorial Novice Chase at Thurles.

The six-year-old was a winner in France before joining Mullins and he made a winning start for the yard when beating stablemate Cash Back in a Cork hurdle last April.

Switched to fences subsequently, Mister Policeman was an odds-on winner at Fairyhouse in November but let down his supporters when well held in third by Quilixios at Navan on his next start.

A six-length win at Punchestown bolstered his confidence according to jockey Paul Townend, who settled his mount in second before making his challenge with four fences to jump in his latest assignment.

The 30-100 favourite was clearly travelling best of all coming to the last and he kept on well to record a length-and-a-half victory over Thecompanysergeant.

Townend said: “He jumped fantastic for a horse that his jumping probably let him down in the past. He loved jumping and is probably getting the hang of it.

“I still think he can go out in trip, but the way he’s jumping now is getting him through. He got a lot of confidence from the last day and he’s built on that again today.

“Hopefully he can keep building, but he has a bit to go to fulfil what he was supposed to be.”

Mister Policeman was the only runner in Ireland for the Mullins-Townend team the day after another fruitful Cheltenham Festival.

Galopin Des Champs provided a perfect finale in winning the Gold Cup for a second successive year, impressing Townend with his cosy three-and-a-half-length verdict.

He said: “He won in a different way (than the previous year) and he dug in so much. We got racing at the top of the hill and on heavy ground it’s a long way home.

“They are really, really good when they can do that.”

Townend finished the week at top jockey with six winners, although he rode a couple of beaten favourites, most notably El Fabiolo who relinquished his unbeaten record in the Champion Chase.

Sent off the 2-9 favourite, El Fabiolo made a bad mistake at the fifth fence and was soon pulled up by Townend.

He added: “It was an amazing week. Obviously El Fabiolo was disappointing.

“There were a few disappointments, he was the main one, but outside that everything went great through the week.”

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Julie Harrington has warned the dominance of Irish trainers at the Cheltenham Festival is “damaging” for the sport.

Irish handlers won 18 of the 27 races across the four days, with 12 of the 14 Grade One contests also going their way and Willie Mullins accounting for eight of those on his own among an overall tally of nine winners for the Closutton team – a total which also took him over 100 Festival winners.

Dan Skelton flew the flag for Britain by sending out four winners, including a memorable top-level double with Ryanair Chase victor Protektorat and Turners Novices’ Chase hero Grey Dawning on Thursday, with Ben Pauling, Paul Nicholls, Kim Bailey, Jeremy Scott and Fiona Needham also getting on the scoresheet.

While Harrington praised those achievements, she feels the Irish supremacy is “becoming more pronounced”.

She said: “I would like to offer my congratulations to every winner this week, and everyone connected with those horses. We again tip our hat to the Irish, and in particular Willie Mullins whose achievement in reaching 100+ Festival winners is truly remarkable.

“Congratulations also go to the British trainers who secured winners this week, in particular Dan Skelton for his impressive haul.

“I have no doubt that the men and women who train horses here in Britain are more than a match for their Irish counterparts. However, they need the ammunition and at present the balance of power and the best horses are going to our colleagues in Ireland, and in particular one yard.

“This is not a new issue. The direction of travel has been set for a number of years now. The sport has been alive to this and taken measures to seek to address it, through attempting to tackle funding issues associated with the sport, seeking increased investment, looking at the race programme, and more recently the delivery of the recommendations of the Quality Jump Racing Review.

“However, the Irish domination of the Grade One races this week has illustrated that the issue is becoming more pronounced and more damaging for the sport on both sides of the Irish sea.”

Following a nightmare Festival for the home side in 2021 which saw just five winners for British trainers, the BHA set up the review group which made a series of recommendations that were unveiled at the start of 2022, with further tweaks to the fixture list this term in an attempt to improve the upper tier of British National Hunt racing.

However, Harrington concedes more now needs to be done and at a faster pace to ensure no further ground is lost.

She said: “Put simply, the rate of decline of jump racing in Britain at the top end has outstripped the measures that have been put in place to tackle it. We must do more, more quickly, and in a more coordinated and decisive manner if we are going to restore British jump racing to the standing at which it belongs.

“Central to this is the delivery of the industry strategy. The strategy is all about growth. At the core of this is investment in the top echelons of our sport, with a view to incentivising the best horses to be bred, owned, trained and raced on these shores. An additional £3.8million in prize-money has already been earmarked for investment in 2024 across the top end of the sport in both codes.

“The strategy is also about much more than just investing in prize money. We need to grow our fanbase by encouraging new fans and retaining existing fans and owners, improve the experience of ownership and attending and viewing racing, and much more besides.

“To achieve this the sport must work together with urgency and clarity of purpose. The times of being reluctant to embrace change or new ideas, lack of transparency and focusing on narrow self-interest must be put firmly behind us.”

Talks are currently ongoing between the BHA and bookmakers on levy reform, which Harrington believes is another key factor in improving British fortunes in the future.

She concluded: “The very visible deterioration in British racing’s competitiveness with our international colleagues has also been at the heart of our discussions with the betting industry and DCMS around the levy, and our representations to Government around the risk of the damaging impact of affordability checks.

“We have seen great progress in the last 18 months and a spirit of collaboration is clearly developing. I am confident that if the sport and its allies work together around this shared goal then it can flourish once again. Not just across four days in March, but across the whole year. Jump racing’s popularity in Britain is immense and its potential limitless.”

Galopin Des Champs’ brilliant Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup double left bookmakers licking their wounds at the end of the Cheltenham Festival.

Willie Mullins’ defending champion was sent off the well-backed 10-11 favourite and barely gave his supporters a moment of worry as he stormed to back-to-back triumphs in the blue riband.

It means that three of the four feature-race favourites obliged over the four days and although the layers received temporary relief on day two when El Fabiolo fluffed his lines in the Champion Chase, Galopin Des Champs’ victory only compounded the misery inflicted by State Man and Teahupoo earlier in the week.

“When the Festival’s leading trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Paul Townend team up on the reigning Gold Cup champion and hot favourite in the biggest betting race of the week, victory for the combination is never going to be anything other than bad news for the bookmakers,” said Coral’s David Stevens.

“Overall it’s been a rollercoaster week for us, but Galopin Des Champ’s Gold Cup double means plenty of punters have ended this huge week on a high.”

BoyleSports were another firm losing on the Gold Cup, with spokesperson Lawrence Lyons adding: “It was already a bruising week with so many Mullins winners going in, but he rubbed salt in our wounds on Friday and Galopin Des Champs was the knockout blow as he was the best backed horse of the week.” 

However, it was not all bad news for the old enemy, with BetVictor relieved to escape relatively unscathed after an up and down week.

Sam Boswell of the firm explained: “After a bruising day one and day two – which could have been much worse if El Fabiolo had obliged for the many multiple bets – days three and four proved fruitful for the bookmakers with only Galopin Des Champs being a significant negative result.

“It is safe to say both bookmakers and punters had lots of fun at this year’s Festival and it is more or less honours even, perhaps a small win for the punters, over the last four days.”

Paddy Power’s Paul Binfield echoed those sentiments adding: “El Fabiolo’s unfortunate defeat in the Queen Mother was the turning point of the week.

“It went downhill from there for punters and the books have come out on top after a rather worrying start.”

An attempt to emulate three-time winners Arkle and Best Mate is uppermost in Willie Mullins’ mind for Galopin Des Champs having watched his stable star smoothly add a second Boodles Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

While last year’s race had its moments of concern before he eventually stamped his class on the contest, this time around it was much more straightforward.

In fact, the biggest worry was when Fastorslow, his nemesis from the Punchestown Festival and the John Durkan Chase earlier in the season, loomed up alongside him – the difference being this time his old foe had unseated earlier in the race and was riderless.

“The loose horse was obviously a worry, I was trying to work out if it was an English or an Irish one! But I could tell by Paul’s body language that he was comfortable throughout,” said Mullins.

For Mullins, the old saying ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again’ certainly rings true where the Gold Cup is concerned.

Before Al Boum Photo won the first of his two Gold Cups in 2019, the master trainer had finished second in the blue riband an incredible six times.

“The two horses don’t really compare, Al Boum Photo was more of a galloper who would stay all day while this fellow has a bit of class but he’s still able to pull it out at the end of three and a quarter miles,” said Mullins, who was winning his fourth Gold Cup in six years.

“We’ve been very lucky that after six seconds we’ve now won four in six, we’re also very lucky to have Paul. He’s level with Pat Taaffe now (on four winners), that’s esteemed company.

“To win the 100th Gold Cup is amazing. The horses have been running so well, the jockeys have been riding so well, it’s like a perfect storm, that’s what it is, just the perfect storm.”

Where Al Boum Photo came up short in his bid for a third Gold Cup, Galopin Des Champs’ biggest test may come from within in the shape of Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase winner Fact To File.

“The aim now has got to be to get him back next year and go for a third and I imagine we’ll run a similar type of programme as we did this year,” said Mullins.

“Looking at the amount of horses he’s beaten, he’s probably run more times than most Gold Cup horses but I’m a believer that if you’ve got a good, sound horse and the prize-money is there, run them.

“I’m sure it’s a big help that we got those runs into him early in the season. He took the runs really well and gave us no reason not to run and that enabled us to come with race fitness rather than hope.

“It’s awesome that it looks like we might have other Gold Cup horses coming through, but we know through bitter experience how hard it is to get three-mile chasers back to the track, it’s a tough game. It would be great to bring him back but if he doesn’t, hopefully we have A, B and C as well.”

For Townend, who you sometimes feel would rather be anywhere else than the centre of attention, he has, as Mullins pointed out, matched the Gold Cup record of Arkle’s legendary rider.

“He’s felt stronger this year so we were able to ride him differently, he’s more grown up, he’s tough,” said Townend.

“It was more straightforward this year, last year we sort of had to fight our way through but this was a different race on a different day.

“You obviously never know what a loose horse is going to do, but he actually behaved himself quite well and my horse was very professional. He was also something for me to race with.”

For Mullins, the Gold Cup was his ninth winner of the week in a year he brought up an incredible 100th Festival success and put the seal on yet another remarkable meeting.

“The other morning before we came, we were all in the office and I said to them all ‘is it me or is everything in place this year’. The horses we were running at home were winning and the ones that were coming here were all in tip-top order and that has proved to be the case,” he said.

“It’s hard to say which is bigger, 100 winners or another Gold Cup, but there’s a Gold Cup every year – not many people will train 100 winners. I never dreamt I would and I didn’t aspire to do it, but you hope to have a Gold Cup winner.

“I obviously tried for a lot of years and couldn’t do it, but a few years later here we are with four out of six. You dream it would happen, but you don’t dream what has happened to Closutton in the last 20 or 25 years.

Townend, who had the misfortunate of being compared to Ruby Walsh when he took the top job, has now established himself as the man for the big occasion.

“It’s been an amazing journey and it’s all down to Willie, he gave me a lot of experiences as a young rider behind Ruby and I’m just grateful to be able to repay him with winners this week and every year,” he said.

“He gives you huge confidence riding the horses because if it’s not going to Plan A, you have the confidence to be able to go and do something else. I don’t remember us ever having a row!”

Comparing Townend to Walsh, Mullins said: “Totally different rider, different style of riding and a different way of viewing a race, but it works. I always admire Paul’s style of riding for different reasons – and he’s really settled into the top job hasn’t he.”

Mullins also had a poignant word for his late parents, Paddy and Maureen, the latter having died last month at the age of 94.

“I would have loved to have had my mother and my father here, for the whole week, not just the Gold Cup, but it’s not to be,” he said.

When asked what was left for him to achieve now, Mullins said: “Paul alluded to it coming in after winning on Absurde when he said ‘what the hell were you doing down in Melbourne with him!’.

“We’d like to go back. In the context of Flat racing, we’re never going to win a Guineas so we target the staying races and the Melbourne Cup is the one I’d really like.”

Dan Skelton made no bones about Willie Mullins’ unquestionable Cheltenham dominance, but he took the Festival fight to his rival’s door with a thrilling Grade One double on day three.

Wednesday marked Mullins 100th overall success at the National Hunt spectacular, with Skelton admitting it is now less about the home team taking on Ireland and more about everyone trying to remain competitive with Team Mullins.

Recent years have marked a distinct lack of Festival success for British-trained runners, but Skelton is doing his level best to buck the trend, supplementing a day two double with Grade One glory courtesy of Grey Dawning in the Turners Novices’ Chase and Protektorat in the Ryanair Chase.

Grey Dawning had to repel the challenge of the Paul Nicholls-trained Ginny’s Destiny for his win, with Venetia Williams’ Djelo taking third for a rare British clean sweep, while Protektorat was too strong for Henry de Bromhead’s defending champion Envoi Allen over the near two-mile-five-furlong trip of the Ryanair.

Both were partnered by Skelton’s brother Harry, and the trainer could hardly contain his delight after a dual strike on the biggest stage of all.

He said: “This is the place you want to win and when you beat Paul, when you beat Willie, when you beat Nicky (Henderson) and Gordon (Elliott) and Henry, they’re legitimate victories. It’s hard to do and we enjoy doing it.

“It’s remarkable how things are going, I’m very proud of the whole team. This is what you plan to do, but it actually coming off is very, very different.”

A nightmare set of Festival results in 2021 saw just five victories for British trainers, but Skelton’s winners combined with Paul Nicholls’ win in the Pertemps Final with Monmiral and the Kim Bailey-trained Chianti Classico’s verdict in the Ultima on the opening day had ensured no repeat of that disappointment by the middle of the third day.

While Skelton has faith fortunes will turn again in British trainers’ favour eventually, he believes the hard work will be in catching the all-conquering Mullins squad.

He added: “It’s not easy, we’re not having things our own way (in Britain), maybe we were used to having things our own way for so long.

“This is a sport, people have supporters and as trainers we have owners. What we’ve got to do is knuckle down, we all are, and get stuck into it and it’ll turn. I’m not saying it will turn all the way back and it probably wouldn’t be a good thing to have such one-sidedness ever again.

“Willie by his own admission says he seeks competition and all of this England versus Ireland talk, I hate to break it to everyone but it’s everyone versus Willie, so we need a dose of reality on that as well.”

Sir Alex Ferguson had the upper hand when meeting Harry Redknapp’s teams on the football pitch and he outscored his old rival two winners to one on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival.

The big meeting was in danger of becoming more than a bit predictable with Willie Mullins recording a double on each of the first two days – but it was livened in some style up by wins for a couple of celebrity owners.

Ferguson, the former Aberdeen and Manchester United manager, has thrown himself into racing ownership since his retirement and has recently been enjoying great success with a horse he bred himself, Spirit Dancer, winning valuable prizes in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia recently.

He has owned horses for a long time with friends Ged Mason and John Hales, and while they have had very good horses and won a host of good races, together they had failed to scale the Cheltenham Festival heights.

That all changed in a magical 40-minute spell on Thursday when first the Paul Nicholls-trained Monmiral caused a big shock in the Pertemps Final and then Protektorat, third in the Gold Cup a few years ago, returned to his best to win the Ryanair Chase on an equally special day for Dan Skelton.

Ferguson – who together with Hales, Mason and Peter Done paid a record €740,000 for Caldwell Potter at the sales in February – said: “I’ve finally had a winner here. Two in 40 minutes! It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? It’s a special place.

“It has been probably 20 years that I’ve wanted to have a winner here, as when I first started I just had Flat horses and no National Hunt ones.

“I got interested in the jumps with Ged and John. It 100 per cent makes it more enjoyable having a winner with friends. Everyone looks forward to Cheltenham, while on the Flat you have the Derby. These two events are unsurpassed.

“It’s special here, it’s like the Derby or the FA Cup final and I’ve waited a while to experience this. A lot of people who buy horses have never had a winner, never mind here. It’s a feeling of elation.

“Of course it’s not the same as winning at football, that was my life, I was immersed in that, this is what I do for pleasure so it’s a different feeling. I don’t have to worry about it, I leave that to the trainer.”

Redknapp echoed Ferguson’s sentiment as he also celebrated his first Festival success after years of trying.

His Shakem Up’Arry, who won the TrustATrader Plate Handicap Chase, got his name from Redknapp’s time at West Ham when a fan used to sit behind him and shout ‘shake ’em up, Arry’.

Redknapp said: “I can’t believe we’ve done it. He travelled so well and jumped the last and I thought ‘please, don’t stop now’. People were saying ‘Go on Harry, he’s won’ and I thought ‘no he ain’t!’.

“Racing has been a big part of my life. I grew up at West Ham as a player where we had a team of punters, that’s how it was back in those days. We all loved a bet, we all loved racing.

“I’ve been lucky to have got into racing as an owner and when you buy horses you dream of having a winner at Cheltenham.”

He went on: “My old nan was a bookie’s runner down our street in the east end and she used to get locked up every day for taking bets! To be here now in this position is incredible.

“My main worry is that they get round safe, I jump every jump with them and think ‘please don’t fall or get hurt’. When they come back safe and sound, especially in front, it’s all the better.

“It’s great for Sir Alex to have a winner as well, we had some great days. Going into his office at Old Trafford at quarter past two when the teams were out and we’d watch a bit of racing for 15 minutes and then we’d go out and I’d do my best to try and pull off a miracle and get a result!

“We both loved the racing and we both loved the football. For him to get two winners today is great and for me to get a winner is fantastic.”

One lucky Betfair punter put all three horses in a £5 accumulator they were calling ‘The Gaffers Treble’. It returned £16,195.

Betfair spokesperson Barry Orr said: “The punter must not only be a racing fan, but also a big football fan. The two ex-bosses are massive racing enthusiasts and Cheltenham is the Champions League of the horseracing world, so for both to score on the biggest stage is a great result.”

Galopin Des Champs bids to join the Prestbury Park immortals when he defends his Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup crown on Friday.

Willie Mullins’ stay stayer erased any stamina doubts with an ultra-impressive success in the blue riband 12 months ago, staying on strongly up the hill to finish seven lengths ahead of game runner-up Bravemansgame.

Although subsequently defeated by Fastorslow in both the Punchestown Gold Cup and when reappearing in the John Durkan, Galopin Des Champs firmly accounted for his reopposing rival when producing a dominant display in last month’s Irish Gold Cup, a victory which supplemented a clinical display at Leopardstown over the Christmas period and sees him head to the Cotswolds in peak condition.

The first time Paul Townend and Galopin Des Champs joined forces at Prestbury Park, the Irishman finished on the deck in the Turners Novices’ Chase as the then bold-jumping novice forfeited a 12-length lead when falling at the last.

However, the Closutton number one was handed plenty of plaudits for the way he nursed the eight-year-old to Gold Cup glory last year and with his mount now the ultimate professional, Townend is relishing the prospect of linking up once again.

“It was disappointing to get beat in the John Durkan but he was very good at Christmas and again at the Dublin Racing Festival,” said Townend.

“People had doubts about him (last year) and you always have doubts I suppose when a horse runs in the Gold Cup – until they stay, they don’t stay. We had confidence in him that he would stay and he did.

“Like us all, he’s getting older and wiser and a bit more laid-back and he’s developed into the finished article.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on him and it’s always exciting. I’ve had the horse underneath me (a few times) in the Gold Cup and you wouldn’t be anywhere without the horses and the rub of the green.”

Golden Miller famously won five successive Gold Cups in the 1930s, with Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate recording heralded hat-tricks in the Cheltenham Festival feature. But as a rule, back-to-back champions are a rarity in the modern era, with the great Kauto Star even surrendering his crown in 2008 before regaining the title a year later.

The outlier in the past 20 years is Al Boum Photo and now Galopin Des Champs has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious former stablemate and provide Closutton with their fourth Gold Cup in six years.

However, the trainer’s son Patrick Mullins believes there are few similarities between the pair, viewing the stable’s latest Gold Cup hero as a “superstar”.

He said: “They’re chalk and cheese a bit. Al Boum Photo very much had his own way of jumping. I remember schooling him one day in Punchestown after racing and Paul just said ‘close your eyes and trust him’!

“He broke Ruby’s leg one time and he fell at the last with David (Mullins) another. He wasn’t a flashy horse and didn’t work fantastically well, whereas Galopin Des Champs is a superstar.

“It’s a bit like Nicky Butt and Roy Keane, but Al Boum Photo won two Gold Cups. It feels to me like he was more a specialist horse for that race, whereas Galopin is a superstar of the sport.”

Martin Brassil knows all about the might of Galopin Des Champs, but his Fastorslow is the only horse to lower the defending champion’s colours in the past two seasons.

The eight-year-old is the general second favourite as he prepares to lock horns with Galopin Des Champs yet again, but his handler believes there is plenty of depth to a competitive Gold Cup.

“We’re looking forward to the race and it’s a really strong renewal of the Gold Cup,” said Brassil.

“They call it a wind operation but we’ve just cauterised his palate that’s all (since Leopardstown last month). There is more than one horse in the race and some really good Grade One winners in there, it’s a strong race that will take plenty of winning.

“He’s as entitled to be there as any of the others, though. The horse has travelled over great and has eaten and drank and stuff and it’s all system go.”

Gordon Elliott’s Gerri Colombe entered the season as a major Gold Cup player in the making and was disputing favouritism after making a winning return at Down Royal.

However, hopes were tempered somewhat when trailing some 23 lengths behind Galopin Des Champs in the Savills Chase at Christmas.

Asked how he can reverse that form with Galopin Des Champs, Elliott said: “We need a miracle, I’d say.

“He’s in great shape, he didn’t run his race at Christmas and it’s going to be very hard to turn that distance around, but we’ll see what happens.

“He was unlucky when he just got touched off here last year and it’s an open race if you take the favourite out of it.”

Owners Robcour have a second string to their Gold Cup bow in the form of Gentlemansgame, who made a successful raid on the Charlie Hall Chase in the autumn, downing Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame.

Mouse Morris’ gigantic grey heads to the blue riband on the back of just three chasing starts but would have a fighting chance of giving his handler a second Gold Cup victory if repeating his Wetherby heroics.

Ten-year-olds Jungle Boogie (Henry de Bromhead) and Monkfish (Mullins) are others from Ireland in the Gold Cup mix, representing the two trainers who have traded the last six runnings of the race.

The latter is a dual Festival winner who finally gets his crack at the main event having been seen just the four times since winning the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase here in 2021.

However, one who will not to be at the start is John ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s King George hero Hewick, who is likely to now head for the Randox Grand National after ground conditions curtailed Gold Cup hopes.

In a post on X, Hanlon said: “After walking the track this morning, we have decided Hewick will not run in the Gold Cup.

“While this is disappointing, we are doing what’s best for the horse”

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