Joy for Lisgoold jockey Townend and Leeside owner as Willie Mullins finally captures the Gold Cup 

Joy for Lisgoold jockey Townend and Leeside owner as Willie Mullins finally captures the Gold Cup 
Jockey Paul Townend celebrates his victory. Picture: Paul Harding/PA Wire.

PAUL Townend enjoyed the day of a lifetime as he claimed the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo for his boss Willie Mullins.

This was a brilliant success for sports fans on Leeside as the horse is owned by Joe Donnelly. The former bookmaker plied his trade in the old greyhound track on the Western Road and will relish this incredible victory.

It has been a long time coming, but legendary trainer Willie Mullins finally won the Cheltenham Gold Cup as the 12-1 shot sped up the hill to clear away from Anibale Fly and Bristol De Mai.

Al Boum Photo took it up two fences from home with a slightly hairy jump, but was full of running coming down from the last and came home two and a half lengths clear of 22-1 chance Anibale Fly, who went one better than last year.

For Lisgoold native Townend, who was recording his second win of the festival after scoring in the Arkle with the Mullins-trained Duc Des Genievres, this is the biggest winner of his career so far, with Ruby Walsh choosing Bellshill, who never figured and was pulled up.

Memorably, Townend mistakenly steered Al Boum Photo around the final fence at Punchestown last season, and the rider said: “I think I owed it to the horse!

The jockey has been a part of the Mullins team since his apprentice days and thanked the trainer and owner Joe Donnelly, for whom he rode Melon to finish second in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday.

Townend said: “I got into a beautiful rhythm and from after the first two fences, everything flowed. He jumped every fence, he’s a real warrior and galloped right to the line. It’s an unbelievable feeling. My body is tingling, I swear I’m shaking!”

An emotional Townend added: “I can’t believe it. It’s the Gold Cup, there’s only one a year and I never dreamt I’d win it. Like any race, when you’re going well it’s so simple. It’s unbelievable and I’m privileged to be riding for Willie Mullins. 

“This is a dream come true and riding a first Gold Cup for him makes it extra special. I’ve been up at his place since I’m 17 and he has given me every opportunity in the world. Winning this race is what you dream about as a young fella and I’m genuinely speechless. 

“You need a stayer to win this race and when Ruby picked Bellshill this horse was always going to be my choice. Getting into an early rhythm is key around here and we jumped the first circuit very well. Everything went well and I was able to weave in and out of the fallers going around. 

"You need plenty of luck as well and I guess today is Mr Donnelly’s day as well as myself and Willie. My father Timmy and sisters Caroline and Jody are here while mam is looking down on us.” 

Paul Townend celebrates winning the Magners Gold Cup with Anna Paoletti (girlfriend), Caroline (sister), Timmy (father) and uncles Derek and Seamus. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Paul Townend celebrates winning the Magners Gold Cup with Anna Paoletti (girlfriend), Caroline (sister), Timmy (father) and uncles Derek and Seamus. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Presenting Percy, who was sent off the 100-30 favourite, was settled in last for much of the first circuit under Davy Russell and was unable to respond to pressure, eventually finishing eighth. Russell said: “He never really got into a rhythm."

Mullins said: “I’ve got used to the disappointment of finishing second. I thought Bellshill would take a lot of beating, but Ruby (Walsh) wasn’t happy with him and pulled him up early. To have three of the four runners out of the race before they came to the second-last first time round — I was depending on one.

“Every time I looked at Paul, his body language told me he was very happy and the horse was relaxed. When he came over the last, I just looked at the winning post and thought nothing would come and get him unless he stops or runs out or something like that. I was here when my dad (Paddy Mullins) won with Dawn Run and I didn’t get home for two days.

“I sort of resigned myself to never winning a Gold Cup. Certain jockeys may never win the feature race of their lives, like the Grand National or the Champion Hurdle. I thought maybe I’m not going to be lucky.”

“It was Paul’s plan to jump out and get a position and just keep jumping and getting balanced. From an early stage, he got him jumping in a rhythm. Every time he needed a squeeze, the horse responded.

“Paul started off with us when he was 17.

“He was riding as a claimer for me and he won the Galway Hurdle for John Kiely and that really put him on the scene.

“He has just been unlucky he has been alongside Ruby.”

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