Al Boum Photo (10-3 favourite) became the first horse since Best Mate to retain the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup to cap a fabulous final day of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival for Willie Mullins.
The Irish trainer, who had won the first three races on the final day at Prestbury Park, struck Gold for a second successive season with Al Boum Photo.
Under Paul Townend, the eight-year-old became the eighth horse in history to win a second Gold Cup and the first multiple victor since triple star Best Mate at the start of the millennium.
Al Boum Photo had been near the head of affairs throughout. And when the Mullins’ star, Santini, Lostintranslation and Real Steel led the pack almost in a line coming to the final two fences, a repeat win was on.
Presenting Percy fell two out, but Al Boum Photo and Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation – who had won the Grade One Betfair Chase at Haydock Park earlier in the season – slugged it out on the run to the line. But Santini fought back and tried to reel in the winner on the outside.
Al Boum Photo, though, dug deep to prevail by a neck with Lostinstranslation a further length and a quarter back in third. Monallee was fourth with Gordon Elliott’s Irish Gold Cup hero Delta Work staying-on for fifth.
Mullins could bid to become the first trainer since Fred Rimell (Royal Frolic and Rag Trade) in 1976 to win the Cheltenham feature and the Randox Health Grand National in in the same season at Aintree Racecourse in three weeks.
He has last year’s Irish Grand National winner Burrows Saint, Total Recall and Acapella Bourgeois among his entries. The former is the general 12-1 second favourite behind Tiger Roll for the Grand National – if like, Cheltenham, the meeting gets the go-ahead amid the coronavirus crisis.
But for now Mullins was just celebrating his second Gold Cup.
The County Carlow handler, who was landing a magnificent seventh success of the week at Prestbury Park, was delighted.
And he reserved special praise for jockey Townend, who took over from the legendary Ruby Walsh as stable jockey last summer.
He said: “It’s fantastic, an absolutely unbelievable day. That man there on the screen, Paul Townend – people said he was under pressure. Paul does his own thing, he probably rides better under a little bit of pressure – really really good from him.
“It’s not easy to take over from someone like Ruby Walsh, but Paul’s gone and stamped his authority this season in Ireland riding for our yard, so I’m really delighted for him.
“I left him alone, I asked what he was going to do. I think the horse wanted a bit more of the action as it unfolded, he didn’t disappoint the horse. He let the horse do it and that’s a rider riding with huge confidence.
“It worked out, so I’m really happy and delighted for Paul.”
On having the same preparation as last year, he added: “We just decided to follow what happened last year, why change it if it works? Thankfully it paid off.
“I think it was only history against him today. I didn’t think the race was as tough as last year, Paul was brave on him and the whole thing came together. It’s Paul’s day today.”
Winning jockey Townend added: “I thought I’d never feel anything like the feeling I had here last year, (but) I think this is even better. It’s all about this, it’s all about this lad.
“Unreal, it’s a credit to Willie. To come here with one run (this season), the man’s a genius.”
He added: “I went out with a plan to get in a rhythm, but he missed a few fences, luckily he always found his feet.
“At the top of the hill he started to jump better – I ended up in front sooner than I wanted, but I was able to hang on and he produced at the last.
“It was completely different to last year, but most importantly it was the same result.
“He’s a legend, he has everything – guts along with class.”
On runner-up Santini, trainer Nicky Henderson said: “You have got to be very proud of him and pleased for everybody, it was a great run. You couldn’t have done anything else. He never touched a fence, he was in the perfect position the whole way.
“He fought like a lion. There was nothing else you could do. The winner was better by a neck on the day.
“To be fair this is only his sixth steeplechase and he has only got to improve a neck and (another 100 yards) and he was nearly going to get there. After what Champ did (in the RSA), I couldn’t hope for that twice.
“He was a couple of lengths down at the last and has got back to within a neck. Nico (de Boinville) gave him a beautiful ride. It was a very good race.
“There is a very big difference between first and second, but Willie is a great mate and Joe (Donnelly, owner) has got a couple of lovely young horses with us, so I’m thrilled for them, as they great people.
“This will be the only objective next season and I’ve told Willie he isn’t allowed any prep race, not even in January!
“Somebody has to finish second – it is a hard place to be, but we can’t complain.”
CTizzard was also proud of the effort of Lostintranslation and he too could head back to Aintree – where he won as a novice chase last season – in three weeks for the Betway Bowl.
He said: “It was a brilliant run in the end. We’ve had a hard old week, as nothing has been going right and we have had a few dirty noses at home and we thought, ‘should be running this one’, as that is how bad it got today.
“Then he come and runs like that, with the choke out a bit. He had every chance. He was just beaten by two better horses. It was a fantastic run.”