Better to be second best than not be there at all
Tom Cooper's star may have seconditis, but he's earned his King George place, writes Ronan Groome
G ene Mauch, a famous baseball coach, once exclaimed; "You have to bear in mind that Mr Autry's favourite horse was named Champion. He ain't ever had one called Runner Up." He was referring to the owner of the Los Angeles Angels, the baseball team he managed at the time. The owner was Gene Autry, the famous singing cowboy of the time.
Finishing second in sport often brings about the same type of feeling of dissatisfaction. It's no different in racing of course. But what for a horse that continually comes second? Seconditis they call it. The betting shop regular will tell you to stay away from this type of horse, the horse with a list of 2s next to his name.
So how does Kerry trainer Tom Cooper feel about his stable-star Forpadydeplasterer filling the runner-up spot seven times in a row? "Frustrating." It's not that Cooper fears the horse may be ungenuine or have an attitude problem at this point in his career, it's just the pure annoyance of being the bridesmaid too many times.
The horse divides opinion, but despite the frustration, his trainer is still proud of a run that dates back to April 2009, when the son of Moscow Society was well beaten by Barker in a Grade One Novice Chase at the Punchestown festival. "He finished second in the Champion Chase, the Melling Chase and the Punchestown Champion Chase in the space of little over a month last season. To me, that is a fantastic effort."
You have to go back to the Cheltenham Festival in 2009 for the horse's last success, when he was an ultra-game winner of the Arkle under Barry Geraghty. The scenes in the parade ring afterwards were out of control, even by an Irish-winner-at-Cheltenham standard, with Cooper lifted shoulder-high amongst a sea of red and white scarves.
The story of how Forpadydeplasterer was bought is well-known at this stage. Cooper explains how he came to meet a few members of what would become the Goat racing syndicate, headed by Dublin publican Charlie Chawke, through his brother Bryan at the Galway races. It was here that the Dubliners outlined their plans to buy a horse.
"It was a case of trying to find a good horse. You can go to the sales and pay big money for a horse and they will turn out no good."
The horse they found was actually recommended by amateur jockey Michael O'Connor, and Cooper liked him a lot after he saw him do a couple of pieces of work. "The lads were insistent on the naming of the horse so we had to find a horse that hadn't run. This horse was actually down to run in a point-to-point at Liscarroll but we were able to pull him out so we could change the name."
The son of Moscow Society won a bumper at Galway on his racecourse debut and went from strength to strength from there, taking the Grade One Deloitte Novice hurdle at Leopardstown. Later that season he finished
fourth in the Ballymore Properties Hurdle at Cheltenham, which was remarkably the only time he finished outside the top two in his career.
In any case, Cooper always felt he was going to make a better chaser, and a year later he was back at the Festival where he grimly fought off the challenge Kalahari King to take the Arkle Chase. If Cooper was annoyed and frustrated at the run of seconds since that famous win on the Cotswolds -- the horse's latest race may have been the hardest to take so far. A well-supported favourite on his seasonal debut at Cheltenham, Forpadydeplasterer looked booked to break his duck at the second last where he was getting the better of the useful Paul Nicholls' novice Tataniano, only for 16/1 shot Gauvain, which was making his first appearance in over a year and a half, to deny him on the run-in after the last.
At first glance the form looked disappointing, but Cooper explained how Barry Geraghty came in and said the ground was the only thing that beat them.
"I couldn't believe they raced on it myself, after three days of racing and no fresh ground, it was a horrible surface. The horse never travelled like he can, he kept changing his legs and he never jumped like he can either."
Despite that, the Kerryman is happy that Forpady is right now and he is also "pretty confident" that the eight-year-old gelding will stay the three miles in the King George tomorrow. Never afraid to go across the sea to take on the big guns, the prospect of taking on Kauto Star does not faze him.
"Obviously Kauto Star is a very good horse, and he's an even better horse around Kempton, but we are third-favourite in the betting so we are more than entitled to be there. There are a lot of very good horses behind us in the betting."
Like a lot of trainers, Cooper tried his hand at being a jockey before embarking on a training career. He concedes that he didn't get his chances at the time, before he eventually went on to become a trainer when he took out his own licence in 1998. "I had a very good start, we had five or six horses and they all won in and around the same time."
Similarities to Forpadydeplasterer can be found in a horse called Montpellier Street, which was one of the first horses Cooper trained on the Flat over a decade ago.
The horse racked up four seconds in a row in the season of 2001, which included the Irish Cambridgeshire at The Curragh and a valuable handicap at Leopardstown.
Flying In The Gale, which won five races, was another which enhanced Cooper's talents at the early stages, but the first big breakthrough for the Tralee-based trainer undoubtedly came with the success of Total Enjoyment in the Champion Bumper at the 2004 Cheltenham Festival. "We had a few winners before that but her win at the Festival was the big breakthrough I suppose. To win a Grade One race at Cheltenham, it was a dream come through really."
Total Enjoyment went on to win on her first start over hurdles the next season, in a Grade 3 hurdle at Down Royal, and was then sent off a short-priced favourite for the Grade One Royal Bond Novice Hurdle on her next start. She travelled supremely well going to the second last, before flattening after that, and she was subsequently found to have scoped badly afterwards.
She had only had one other run over hurdles before she sustained a very bad injury to her leg when trying to jump a ditch at home. She never recovered from it, and was not even able to be saved for breeding purposes which was a huge disappointment to all concerned, not least Cooper. "That's the highs and lows of the game. You're up one day, and down the next, all in such a short space of time."
Cooper has been back on a high ever since Forpadydeplasterer came along in 2007, and so is up mixing it again with all the major players. But when asked if he would settle for another second place finish, three lengths behind Kauto Star tomorrow, he says smiling: "I'd be pleased."
However you just get the feeling the Kerryman is a little hopeful of more than that.
Sunday Indo Sport