CHELTENHAM, England (Reuters) -Galopin Des Champs romped to victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday, earning a third success in five years for jockey Paul Townend and trainer Willie Mullins, and a bit of redemption after falling last year.
The 7-5 favourite bided his time before finishing seven lengths ahead of King George winner Bravemansgame (6-1) in second and Conflated (22-1) - whose jockey Davy Russell pulled out minutes before the start - in third.
"We put ourselves under pressure by saying he had enough stamina to win a Gold Cup, he had enough class to win a Gold Cup," said Mullins, who has 93 victories at Cheltenham.
"I didn't realise how much pressure until about the third last. He flew through and I thought it is going to happen.
"Through the race you are wondering if he is too far back but I had asked Paul to settle him. He had the fastest horse and just needed to ride him home and that is what he has done. Paul is so good under pressure and I have put him under pressure this week."
The dramatic race saw Ahoy Senor fall after leading for several fences. The fall brought down Sounds Russian and threw last year's winner A Plus Tard and jockey Rachael Blackmore off their line. There was more drama down the stretch, as Hewick fell after the final fence. All of the horses were back on their feet after their falls.
"It wasn't plain sailing, that's for sure," Townend, who won twice on Al Boum Photo, told ITV racing.
"Everywhere I went there was a bit of trouble, his jumping just got a bit careful for the first circuit but going out I had full faith in him that he was going to get me out of trouble and he did."
Last year, they were not so lucky. Galopin Des Champs and Townend had victory in their sights before falling at the last fence in the Turners Chase race at Cheltenham.
Mullins said they had not done as much speed work this season with the seven-year-old Galopin Des Champs, who was well back of the leaders through much of the race.
"It is all about stamina," Mullins said. "The horse is just relaxed, Paul gets them relaxed and puts them asleep, although I did wonder if we had overdone it at the halfway, we were a long way off."
Galopin Des Champs earned 351,688 pounds (428,000) for the victory. The Gold Cup had a total prize purse of 625,000 pounds.
Sam Ewing, who learned 15 minutes before the start that he would be replacing Russell on Conflated, was thrilled with their third-place finish.
"He did everything right," Ewing said. "We got a lovely position from the get-go, he jumped very well, he sat me very well, we got caught in a little bit of traffic turning in but he ran a great race."
($1 = 0.8219 pounds)
(Reporting by Lori Ewing, editing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)