Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey Paul Townend on Al Boum Photo

Al Boum Photo will be aimed at a third Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph after becoming the first horse since triple winner Best Mate to defend the title.

The 100-30 favourite, ridden by Paul Townend for trainer Willie Mullins, held off runner-up Santini and Lostintranslation in third to win.

Mullins plans a similar light campaign next season in a bid to emulate Best Mate’s 2002, 2003 and 2004 wins.

“I’m very happy with two, but we will aim for three,” he said.

Triumph and heartbreak at Cheltenham

Moore was crestfallen after becoming unseated on runaway leader Goshen

A gripping Gold Cup capped a somewhat surreal Cheltenham Festival, where a total of around 250,000 spectators gathered over four days while many other sporting events were being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Irish champion trainer Mullins, who won the race for the first time last year after finishing runner-up six times, had earlier shown his class when fortuitously claiming the opening Triumph Hurdle with Burning Victory.

Crestfallen jockey Jamie Moore was left curled up on the turf after being unseated by runaway leader Goshen at the final flight.

Moore, riding for his trainer father Gary, looked set for a convincing victory but there was a collective gasp as the favourite’s legs clipped the hurdle and he was catapulted sideways out of the saddle.

A dejected Moore was consoled by 20-time champion jockey AP McCoy as he returned to the weighing room.

‘I feel very sorry for Gary and Jamie. Jamie did everything right. I am delighted to have won but it is not a victory I am going to celebrate hugely,” said Mullins.

Mullins was soon able to celebrate properly when Saint Roi was steered to victory in the County Hurdle by Barry Geraghty to give leading owner JP McManus a seventh success of the week.

Another win came with Monkfish, partnered by Townend, in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, before Al Boum Photo sealed the 2,196-1 four-timer.

No fear for Mullins

Al Boum Photo enjoyed the same preparation as a year earlier, having won his only start at Tramore on New Year’s Day.

And Mullins said he felt more confident going into the race than he had 12 months ago.

“I didn’t see anything all year I was afraid of. I thought he had a great chance and it was winnable with a clear round,” he said.

“We just decided not to break a winning formula and it’s paid off thankfully.”

Santini, trained by Nicky Henderson, was just a neck back in second, with a further one-and-a-quarter lengths to Lostintranslation for Colin Tizzard.

The Henry de Bromhead-trained Monalee, under Rachael Blackmore, was also in contention and finished fourth.

Townend rises to occasion

Townend rode five winners at Cheltenham

Winning rider Paul Townend has taken over as first jockey for Mullins following the retirement in 2019 of the Festival’s all-time leading jockey Ruby Walsh.

And he has shown a capacity to bounce back from disappointments such as his defeat aboard Benie Des Dieux in Tuesday’s Mares’ Hurdle to the Blackmore-ridden Honeysuckle.

“Tuesday seems a long time ago now. Riding for Willie is the key to that,” said Townend.

“He has my back, and that’s huge. It fills you with a lot of confidence.”

Rather aptly, Townend – with five victories this week – was handed the first Ruby Walsh Trophy for leading rider by the man he succeeded.

Mullins took the top trainer honours with more second places after tying with Gordon Elliott on seven winners apiece.

Their dominance helped Ireland to a 17-10 win over Great Britain in the Prestbury Cup.

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