Galopin Des Champs primed for Gold Cup defence

Willie Mullins ‘very happy’ as Festival approaches.

Willie Mullins is confident Galopin Des Champs will put up a staunch defence of his crown in next month’s Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The eight-year-old was a brilliant winner of the blue riband last season, a third Gold Cup triumph in five years for the Festival’s most successful trainer following the back-to-back victories of Al Boum Photo in 2019 and 2020.

Galopin Des Champs was beaten by Fastorslow at the end of last season and at the start of the current campaign, but roared back to his best with a stunning Savills Chase success over Christmas before taking his revenge on Fastorslow when plundering his second Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown earlier this month.

Speaking at his annual press morning ahead of the sport’s showcase fixture in four weeks’ time, Mullins appeared more than happy with the condition of his star performer ahead of his return to the Cotswolds.

Galopin Des Champs took the Festival highlight in 2023
Galopin Des Champs took the Festival highlight in 2023 (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“He’s come out of his race in Leopardstown very well and I’m very happy. It’s going to be a tip-top Gold Cup I think. We’re in great form,” he said.

The Closutton handler feels a change to more positive tactics has played a significant part in Galopin Des Champs’ mini resurgence as the division’s top dog.

Paul Townend was widely lauded for the patience he showed in last year’s Gold Cup, but it seems highly likely he will be ridden closer to the speed this time around.

Mullins added: “I’d wanted him ridden off the pace the two years before as I felt he was too keen and I didn’t want him getting drawn into a battle, but this year I don’t mind.

“He’s bigger and stronger, well certainly stronger but he’s more mature now and definitely up for it (leading).”

Galopin Des Champs may well be joined in the Gold Cup field by stablemate Monkfish, who was sidelined for two years after an excellent novice campaign in 2020-21.

He was beaten on his first two starts after his return last spring, but resumed winning ways in last month’s Galmoy Hurdle and Mullins feels a good portion of his ability remains intact.

“Monkfish is also in the Stayers’ Hurdle, but if enough rain comes I’d seriously have to consider him for the Gold Cup,” he said.

“He’s got the class and I was happy he came back in good order in Gowran, albeit over hurdles.

“At the moment I’d say I’ll prepare him for the Gold Cup, I’ll have a word with Rich (Ricci, owner) and see what he is thinking.

“I thought he went a long way to answering if he was as good as he was at Gowran and come Cheltenham, he will be better again.”

Capodanno won the Cotswold Chase but does not hold a Gold Cup entry at present
Capodanno won the Cotswold Chase but does not hold a Gold Cup entry at present (Nigel French/PA)

Such is the staggering strength in depth Mullins has at his disposal, he did not even enter his Cotswold Chase victor Capodanno for the Festival’s most prestigious event.

The JP McManus-owned gelding’s likely target at Prestbury Park appears the Ryanair Chase, but Mullins did reveal the possibility of supplementing for the Gold Cup “has been mentioned”.

Mullins’ novice chase team appears just as strong, with Fact To File seemingly the leading the way.

The seven-year-old is two from two over fences, and while his performance in coming home alone in a Grade One at Leopardstown last time is difficult to gauge after his stablemate Gaelic Warrior faded tamely before coming to grief at the final fence, there is no doubt he is held in the highest regard.

Fact To File at the Mullins yard on Monday
Fact To File at the Mullins yard on Monday (Niall Carson/PA)

“Fact To File is in the Brown Advisory and Turners at Cheltenham. I’d be leaning towards the Brown Advisory, but I’m just wondering what other horses in the same colours might be going that way,” Mullins continued.

“His speed figure at the Dublin Racing Festival was fantastic. Someone told me at Christmas in his beginners’ chase he did a huge one, I’m into what I see visually and the way they do it but the run at Christmas it transpired was right and he doubled down on it.

“Fact To File has done everything right and has put in a huge trial for either race at Cheltenham.”

Gaelic Warrior came unstuck at the Dublin Racing Festival
Gaelic Warrior came unstuck at the Dublin Racing Festival (PA)

Of Gaelic Warrior, he said: “Obviously going left-handed didn’t suit Gaelic Warrior, but getting worked up before the race didn’t help and during the race he made a mistake at the fourth last which seemed to unsettle him.

“He was very disappointing but he seems all right. He’s a little quiet in himself but he would be, most good horses are when they are beaten.

“We’ll try to get him right and the Turners was what we had in mind for him.”

Irish Arkle victor Il Etait Temps will bid to follow up in the Arkle and may be joined by Facile Vega, who is set to have his training routine tweaked as Mullins bids to reignite his fire following a disappointing run of form.

Embassy Gardens appears the stable’s chief contender for the National Hunt Chase, while Dinoblue and Allegorie De Vassy will give Mullins a strong hand in the Mares’ Chase.

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