Cooper comes of age as Cossack storms to glory
Victory for Elliott-trained market leader as Mullins hits the bar again with Djakadam after Cue Card crashes out when poised to challenge
Published 19/03/2016 | 02:30
At the climax of an unforgettable Cheltenham Festival that embraced a recurring theme of redemption, Gordon Elliott and Bryan Cooper combined to ensure Don Cossack finally fulfilled their belief in him with a barnstorming Timico Gold Cup victory.
As had been the case with Annie Power on Tuesday, Don Cossack had twice been to the Cotswolds in March and departed with connections ruing what might have been. This time, he departs in splendid glory.
Under a wonderfully confident and assured Cooper, Don Cossack justified 9/4 favouritism in emphatic style, reducing Djakadam to the runner-up berth for a second year in a row.
It was the sixth time that Willie Mullins, who also saddled the third home Don Poli, found one too good in the sport's pinnacle event. Djakadam's owner Rich Ricci subsequently conceded to feeling a "twinge of what might have" been had Vautour, so majestic on Thursday, taken part.
Cue Card's crashing exit three-out here added to the inconclusive strand. Ultimately, though, this was Don Cossack's day of reckoning, and he rose to the task with sublime conviction.
So, too, did Cooper, who hasn't always enjoyed the rub of the green since usurping Davy Russell as retained rider to Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud in 2014.
In his first foray to this unforgiving cauldron of intensity as Gigginstown's No 1, Cooper broke his leg on the Thursday and missed three winners on the Friday. Don Poli won for him in 2015, but Don Cossack's Ryanair Chase defeat was among a number of disappointments.
This time, Cooper had to choose between the two talented chasers. He went for Don Cossack, and together they seized their moment with a flawless display.
Having lost the similarly exciting No More Heroes to injury on Wednesday, it was a timely tonic for Cooper, Elliott and O'Leary, who was winning his second Gold Cup, 10 years after War Of Attrition's day in the sun.
"I can't believe it," said 38-year-old Elliott, who struggled to contain his emotion after adding the sport's Holy Grail to his 2007 Grand National triumph with Silver Birch.
"It's unbelievable. I am shell-shocked. It's something you dream about. I won the Grand National when I was very young and probably didn't appreciate it, but I appreciate this. I am so lucky, the position I am in with the owners that I have and the staff at home.
"No More Heroes could have been a Gold Cup horse and he is a huge loss, but we have had three winners here now this week, so we can't complain.
"I felt the pressure today. I normally wouldn't, but I put myself under pressure for this.
"I've always had great faith in Don Cossack. We trained him the exact same way as we had every other season. We had him in great nick both years before coming here, but things just didn't work out. Thankfully they did today, and Bryan was class."
That much was certainly true. Don Poli plugged on from the rear under Russell to be third.
Cooper's judgement was vindicated emphatically, and this was the day that he really came of age in the limelight, emerging from the shadows of Russell, Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty.
"There were a lot of press saying that I couldn't get on with the horse," said a triumphant Cooper, "and I think I've proved you all wrong now so I'm delighted. I'm only 23. Ruby, Barry and Davy have 10 to 15 years more experience on me, but they've been very good to me; they keep saying keep your chin up and train hard, and thankfully it paid off.
"I knew I would be on the best horse; Gordon and everyone had Don Cossack in tip-top shape. I had plenty of horse under me and I knew I had Ruby and Cue Card in trouble, and it was a case of him being quick enough. From the last he pricked his ears and wasn't doing a stroke."
The victory came 12 years after the former Tralee CBS pupil led his father Tom's Total Enjoyment into the winner's enclosure following her Champion Bumper coup. Tom, also successful in 2009 with Forpadydeplasterer, was a proud man as he watched his son collect his trophy. "I've had some great days here but I think this tops it all," said the native of Farmers Bridge near Tralee.
Asked how the success compared to War Of Attrition's, O'Leary responded: "Winning this is as good as the first. It's like I've died and gone to heaven - it's like an out of body experience."
Mullins and Walsh both felt that Djakadam was beaten fair and square, and Russell said that Don Poli had been flat out from the start.
"We have no excuses," said Mullins of Djakadam. "He was beaten by a better horse so congratulations to all the connections of the winner.
"I would imagine the ground was just too fast for Don Poli - he wasn't able to go the pace."
Earlier, Aidan O'Brien went down as having saddled his sixth Festival winner - 16 years after Istabraq's last - when Geraghty guided Ivanovich Gorbatov to a smooth Triumph Hurdle success.
However, while the name over the door is the same, there is a new proprietor running the shop on Carriganog Hill in Co Kilkenny.
O'Brien & Son might be more fitting. His son Joseph, recently retired from a fleeting but brilliant career as a Flat jockey, is making a fair job of his new vocation; he will assume the licence as soon as the Turf Club runs its next trainers' course.
He will be the only greenhorn in the class that has ridden Derby winners and, in effect, trained a Cheltenham Festival winner.
"It's unbelievable," the 22-year-old said of the well-backed 9/2 favourite. "It's as good as any day riding anyhow."
Geraghty's sole win of the week - his 99th Grade One - meant he has ridden a winner at 15 Festivals in a row.
McManus doubled up when Nina Carberry again excelled in getting On The Fringe home for its second Foxhunter win. Another well-backed 13/8 favourite, Enda Bolger's 11-year-old clung on bravely to deny Colin McBratney's Marito.
"I'm just so happy," beamed Carberry, adding of Bolger: "He is unbelievable for getting a horse right. He kept this fellow for today and he has done a great job."