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Mullins' joy after Al Boum Photo's golden run

 

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Golden wonder: Willie Mullins and jockey Paul Townend are delighted after securing back-to-back Gold Cup triumphs with Al Boum Photo

Golden wonder: Willie Mullins and jockey Paul Townend are delighted after securing back-to-back Gold Cup triumphs with Al Boum Photo

PA

Golden wonder: Willie Mullins and jockey Paul Townend are delighted after securing back-to-back Gold Cup triumphs with Al Boum Photo

Willie Mullins cut an emotional figure and gave an insight into the inner workings of his mind during a dry spell when "getting a score before half-time" after landing his first winner of the Cheltenham Festival at the end of day two.

"Every day you are wondering when will we have a complete blow-out and you don't know. I was beginning to wonder if the horses were not in form, maybe the horses are just not good enough. That could be the problem too, everybody else is getting better," Mullins reflected.

There was no need for Mullins to worry as his star-studded string came good when it really mattered.

Much like three years ago when the opening two days drew a blank before he roared back with six winners over Thursday and Friday, things reached a crescendo after yesterday's Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo (10/3 favourite) writing his place into racing history to seal a staggering 2,196/1 four-timer.

An "absolutely unbelievable day" was kicked off by the unlikely success of Burning Victory (12/1) in the Triumph Hurdle with the daughter of Nathaniel picking up the pieces under Paul Townend after Goshen (5/2 favourite) unshipped jockey Jamie Moore at the last with the race at his mercy.

Mullins admitted that he "felt like a bit of an imposter" when collecting the Grade One prize before sympathising with trainer Gary Moore and son Jamie "as it was their one shot of the meeting and they had all the work done but these things happen unfortunately."

County Hurdle success followed for the exciting novice Saint Roi (11/2 favourite) - well-backed in the colours of JP McManus - as Barry Geraghty landed his fifth winner of the week to lead home a Mullins 1-2-4 with runner-up Aramon (8/1) and Buildmeupbuttercup (16/1) showing the stable's rude health.

The Irish played out a heart-stopping finish in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle with Mullins' Monkfish (5/1), Paul Nolan's Latest Exhibition (9/2) and Gordon Elliott's well-supported Fury Road (5/1) duking it out and there was only a neck and a nose separating them with Mullins again coming out best.

That trio are likely to leave a lasting print on the jumping game over the coming years and Mullins is between two minds about what path to take next with the classy Rich Ricci-owned six-year-old.

"Monkfish looks a real chaser. The first time we ran him, we wondered if he would ever win a race. We were so disappointed - you would swear he was never on a racetrack, he was very green and immature," the 63-year-old said.

"Monkfish is maturing all the time and Paul said that he felt there is still more to come - he said you could feel the power coming when he got after him. He is a huge, big horse but, if he has to come back and win a Stayers' Hurdle, we won't complain."

Despite Elliott subsequently landing the Grand Annual with the Davy Russell-ridden Chosen Mate (7/2 favourite), Mullins would miraculously walk away as Leading Trainer following a Lazarus-like recovery.

Countback was needed after the great foes shared 14 winners, seven apiece, for the week with Mullins bagging a 72nd Festival victory overall despite some hard times.

"I was expecting a lot more from the first two days and it's tough. People expect us to have winners. We don't expect to have winners but we hope," a reflective Mullins said yesterday.

"It's a big story when we don't have winners but you have to earn them. We just didn't have the luck on Tuesday. Everyone has bad days."

A first Festival winner for jockey Rex Dingle and trainer Paul Webber with Indefatigable (25/1) in the Martin Pipe denied the Irish a clean sweep on the final day with a family success dominating the Foxhunter Chase.

It Came To Pass (66/1) provided Cork trainer Eugene O'Sullivan with an unforgettable day when bridging a 29-year gap to land his second success in the race, this time with his daughter Maxine in the saddle.

"Maxine has done an awful lot of work on him at home, and she gave him a savage ride. All the big guns were queuing up behind but Maxine knew what she had, she rode him accordingly and I'm very proud of her," the beaming trainer said.

Meanwhile, Saint Roi landed a gamble to continue a superb Festival for connections with a convincing victory in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle.

Saint Roi may have been lightly-raced, but money talked and the McManus-owned five-year-old delivered in style.

Coming to the last, Embittered held every chance, as did a few others, but the Barry Geraghty-ridden Saint Roi was going best of all and the 11/2 favourite pulled away to win decisively by four and a half lengths.

Riding his fifth winner of the week, Geraghty said: "He was electric. For a horse with little experience, the pace they went, he was very good. Willie was sweet on him and he's not a bad judge.

"It's what you dream of, you come here and one winner is all you want. It's brilliant when they keep coming. There's no doubt about it, it's a privileged position to ride such good horses for good people and it is a pleasure.

"It's a fun game in this sport, I enjoy it."

Mullins said: "I enjoyed that a bit more than the last one (fortunate victory in Triumph Hurdle). It was a proper race - he is a good horse. We were very lucky to win the last one.

"Barry is riding out of his skin. I said to JP on Monday evening we might have one for you. This fellow did a lovely bit of work during the week and I think he said to me he wouldn't back him in case he stopped him. He did what he showed me in his final bit of work the other day, which was way better than before, and Barry executed the job."

Chosen Mate was the punters' friend as he justified strong market support to lift the Grand Annual.

Elliott's seven-year-old cruised into the lead at the third-last under Davy Russell and held a clear advantage at the final fence.

He got in a bit tight to the obstacle, but it made no difference and the 7/2 favourite powered up the hill.

Elliott said: "He definitely could win a graded race. I said if you can get him in a rhythm over his first four fences he will win. Thankfully he won.

"Robbie Power was going to ride him, but then Davy decided he wanted to ride him and I'm thrilled as he is a brilliant jockey and I'm lucky to have him."

Belfast Telegraph