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Cheltenham Icons: A look at Al Boum Photo's career

Al Boum Photo will be forever recalled as the horse that finally ended the quest of Willie Mullins to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The all-time leading trainer at the Cotswolds extravaganza, Mullins was, for a long time, seemingly feted to suffer near misses in the most important race of the entire season.

Al Boum Photo and Paul Townend ended that catalogue of close calls in 2020 and would go on to make it back-to-back Blue Riband wins 12 months later.

Horse Racing

Not an overnight superstar

Some of the Mullins team come with a lofty reputation before they ever grace a racetrack but this wasn't the case for Al Boum Photo.

He was one of the earlier arrivals in the now-famous colours of owners Joe and Marie Donnelly and there was little in the early part of his career to suggest he was a budding superstar in the making.

He and Townend landed a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Fairyhouse in April 2017 when Walsh preferred Invitation Only, but the rise into Grade 1 company at Punchestown soon after was a bridge too far as they finished fifth behind the likes of Champagne Classic, Penhill and Monalee.

Novice chasing season of ups and downs

The 2017/18 season was to be Al Boum Photo's busiest in his career and it was a season of major highs and lows, to say the very least.

Victory at Navan in a beginners contest in November was the starting point, but a fall at Limerick on St Stephen's Day followed with David Mullins on board when disaster struck at the last with the race there for the taking.

Monalee had Al Boum Photo's number in a 2m5f Grade 1 at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival and from there it was to Cheltenham for the three-mile novice chase at the Festival.

That would be the first time Walsh had partnered Al Boum Photo over fences and it was memorable for all the wrong reasons, the jockey suffering a broken leg after a fall at the second last. 

David Mullins was on board for the Ryanair Gold Cup win at Fairyhouse three weeks later, a first success at elite level, before Townend took over for an infamous trip to Punchestown in late April 2018.

Sent off the most fancied of the Mullins-trained trio in the Champion Novice Chase, Al Boum Photo cruised into contention at the second-last fence where the favourite Monalee fell and also took out Invitation Only.

Following that carnage, Townend said he thought he heard a fellow jockey shout to navigate around the final fence, which he then did, taking Finian's Oscar with him much to Robbie Power's dismay, and handing the race to The Storyteller. 

Rising to the top

From such ignominy to the ultimate glory. In just a total of five runs from that point on, Al Boum Photo would win himself two Cheltenham Gold Cups.

He went to Tramore on New Year's Day 2019 and was as big as 2/1 to win a Listed race with Walsh on board. He did that and the champion trainer said he'd go straight to Cheltenham and the Gold Cup afterwards.

There, Walsh sided with Bellshill (pulled up) leaving Townend to partner 12/1 Al Boum Photo.

Less than 12 months on from their Punchestown mayhem, they were kings of Cheltenham together, finally allowing the most decorated trainer in jumps racing to win the Gold Cup after a faultless and patient spin around Prestbury Park.

A month later, Kemboy – who had unseated in the Gold Cup – would take down Al Boum Photo (second) in the Punchestown Gold Cup in the race that marked Walsh's fairytale retirement from the saddle. 

Sticking to the plan for more Gold Cup glory

Having hatched the perfect plan, master-trainer Mullins wasn't going to mess with a winning formula and, so, back to Tramore on New Year's Day 2020 to win there on seasonal bow again.

Back in the Cotswolds, Al Boum Photo and Townend made it successive Gold Cup wins – the first horse since Best Mate in 2002 to do that – as they held off a rallying Santini in a cracking finish.

Al Boum Photo ran just twice that season, as he ended again with the Gold Cup in his possession.

He'd win the same Tramore race again in 2021 and 2022 but further Cheltenham glory eluded him as he was third behind Minella Indo and then only sixth when A Plus Tard exacted revenge on that rival in 2022.

The final run of Al Boum Photo's career came at Auteuil in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris in May 2022. 

He won eight of 18 starts over fences, including those two Gold Cup, and managed to fit all sorts of fun and games into a near six-year career.

Any odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and are subject to fluctuation.

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