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HAIL THE CHAMP: Galopin Des Champs with owner Audrey Turley and trainer Willie Mullins during Tuesday night’s homecoming parade through the Carlow village of Leighlinbridge. Picture: Niall Carson/PA

The Cheltenham Gold Cup hero enjoyed a homecoming parade through the Carlow village of Leighlinbridge on Tuesday evening.

Damien Maguire (Irish Examiner)
 
Galopin Des Champs was given the reception he so richly deserved as the Cheltenham Gold Cup hero enjoyed a homecoming parade through the Carlow village of Leighlinbridge on Tuesday evening.
 
For a long time it looked like Willie Mullins — the most successful trainer in Festival history — was destined to never claim the showpiece meeting’s most prestigious prize after saddling the runner-up on no less than six occasions.
 
Al Boum Photo put that to bed with victory in 2019, though, and for good measure successfully defended his crown 12 months later.
 
Galopin Des Champs lined up for this year’s renewal as a red-hot favourite, with his only defeat in six previous outings over fences coming at last year’s Festival when he came to grief at the final fence with the Turners’ Novices’ Chase at his mercy.
 
Following previous wins this season in the John Durkan at Punchestown and the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown, the seven-year-old stamped his class on his return to Prestbury Park with a comprehensive defeat of King George winner Bravemansgame under an ice-cool ride from Paul Townend.
 
Just as they did after Al Boum Photo’s first triumph four years ago, the Leighlinbridge locals turned out in force to give Galopin Des Champs a hero’s welcome, with Mullins, Townend, and owner Audrey Turley also on hand to receive the acclaim of the crowd.
 
Mullins said: “We’d had six seconds before (Al Boum Photo), and I was resigned to never winning it.
 
“Al Boum Photo did that job for us, then he won another one. It was fantastic to get Galopin Des Champs for Audrey and Greg Turley.
 
“We thought when he won the Martin Pipe (at the Festival in 2021) that we had a really good horse and he could be Gold Cup material. It was more hope we had a Gold Cup horse than thought we had one.
 
“His novice hurdling career went very well and his novice chasing career went very well, albeit the slip-up at the last fence in Cheltenham last year. He came back and won the Grade One Ryanair at Fairyhouse — every time we asked him a bigger question, he answered it.
 
“He’s a horse who was improving all the time and at his age we knew there was a lot more improvement to come.”
 
The three and a quarter miles of the Gold Cup was unchartered territory, but Mullins said: “I didn’t (doubt his stamina), he showed me as a novice hurdler over three miles at Punchestown — if a horse of that age can do that over three miles, there’s every chance he will go further as an older horse.
 
“I had faith in the horse, that he wouldn’t burn himself off too early — he was inclined to over-race a little bit as a younger horse, but we’ve concentrated on settling him and Paul has done a great job.
 
“We had a lot of things going for us going into the race, we (just) needed a bit of luck — everyone needs that.”