No place does a redemption arc storyline quite like
Cheltenham and Paul Townend turned disaster into triumph with hero's show in
the biggest race of all, writes James Toney.
Twelve months ago Townend and Galopin Des Champs looked to be cruising to victory here, only for a last fence fall in the Turner Novices' Chase.
However, there were no errors as the the pair combined to deliver a brilliant victory in the Boodles Gold Cup, Townend's patient and tactically astute ride praised as one of the greatest yet.
Once again this Cheltenham Festival has been all about Irish horses, their trainers securing the Prestbury Cup over British rivals with a day to spare.
But over the last fence, the home team were right in contention to win the biggest prize on offer, with Paul Nicholls's Bravemansgame, the winner of the King George Chase, right upsides Townend until the Willie Mullins trained horse surged clear up Cheltenham's
Townend is famously not demonstrative, which is hardly surprising given the number of times he saddles winners.
But this week builds up pressure like no other and he yelled with joy on crossing the line, venting all the nervous anxiety into the springtime Cotswolds air.
The win secured him his third top jockey title at the Festival and banked Mullins the top trainer trophy for the tenth time in 13 years. Winning is a habit but it's also one neither take for granted, there were even some tears from both, of happiness
"This race is just different, it brings winning to a different level, nothing feels like this," said Townend, who also won in 2019 and 2020 on Al Boum Photo.
"It certainly wasn't plain sailing, everywhere I went I was running into trouble but I had full faith he'd get me out of problems.
"He's run about three different races and still won a Gold Cup, he's a proper horse and he was very brave. I was a lot further back than I wanted to be but he dug me out of a hole. I don't think this horse understands quite how good he is."
Sometimes you think the same can apply to Townend too. True, a position as the top jockey to the best trainer in the world guarantees him winners but Townend is some talent.
Stepping out of the shadows of Ruby Walsh was never going to be easy and the microscope is trained hard on every big race, such is the level of expectation and scrutiny heaped upon Mullins runners.
There is no sailing under the radar when your name is Mullins or Townend and the pressure of this week can be crippling.
"This is the pinnacle of our sport, the Gold Cup, and Paul has just given us the best riding display of the week," said Walsh, a double Gold Cup winner as a jockey, and still a key figure in Mullins yard.
"It was just great race riding from Paul, he needed a few jumps to get him into the race but then he was absolutely flying. Paul deserves every plaudit he gets from that performance, it was just magic."
Mullins was uncharacteristically publicly critical of Townend at the recent Dublin Racing Festival, words that would have stung.
However, with two rides on Gold Cup day the 32-year-old showed why he is the best in the business - first partnering Lossiemouth to a brilliant win in the Triumph Hurdle, followed by this Gold Cup masterclass under the glare of jump racing's brightest
"That was as brilliant a ride as I've ever seen in a horse race," said two-time winner AP McCoy.
"He rode that race with total bottle, he embraced the privilege of pressure. I've never seen anyone cope with pressure like that."