Cooper's Forpady 'running in wrong race' - Stormin' Norman
Tom Cooper beamed as he strode into the residents' bar of the Silver Springs Hotel in Cork on Monday night. There was a spring in this man's step as he made for a corner populated by fellow Cheltenham Preview Night panel members -- and why wouldn't there be?
It was the first of March, Forpadydeplasterer had excelled in a thorough schooling session at Leopardstown 24 hours previously, and earlier that day he had secured the services of one AP McCoy for the Champion Chase. Throw into the pot that Son Amix, one of his Tralee stable's new recruits, had put itself into the Cheltenham picture with a facile win at Navan on Saturday, and it was no wonder that Tom Cooper's tail was up.
Having ordered a pint and a bite of grub, he sat down at the table that already housed yours truly, Norman 'Stormin' Williamson, Richard 'Dickie' Johnson and Paul Nolan. It was going to be a grand evening.
Then 'Stormin' lived up to his nickname by taking a sledgehammer to the can of worms. "Tom," he said when talk inevitably turned to Forpadydeplasterer, "you're running in the wrong race at Cheltenham. Master Minded is untouchable in the Champion Chase, and your fellow wouldn't come off the bridle in the Ryanair."
Before the paying customers ever got within earshot, the ball was rolling. Taken aback, Tom raised his eyes from his pint, that countenance of bliss disturbed. He looked round for a bit of support, but found none.
This matter had already been tabled. The assembled brains had unanimously ruled that the Ryanair wasn't much of a Grade One, and that it was tailor-made for a horse of Forpady's quality. Myself, Johnson or Nolan weren't about to tell Tom Cooper his job, but the bould Norman saw a flock of pigeons and hurled the cat straight in.
For Cooper, the Champion Chase is where the glory lies, and Master Minded's would be a prized scalp. Deep down, though, he knows the Ryanair is more winnable, but logic is a coward's excuse for ambition. Tom lowers his glass. "Sure, maybe I'll run him in both!" he quips.
Shortly after, joined by Paul Townend, Gerry Hannon (MC) and Paul Tully of Tully Bookmakers, we are marched through the waiting crowd in the hotel's convention centre to a blaring rendition of 'Cheltenham'. With Paul Nolan, who stands guilty of murdering a good song having had a hand in the recording of the charity single, leading the parade, it's not surprising that we look and feel like condemned men en route to the stocks.
Our executioners go easy on us to begin with, but any notion of a reprieve goes out the window when the floor is opened up after we dissect the Gold Cup. The panel is undivided in its belief that Paul Nicholls will have his work cut out to get Denman competitive and Paul Townend even suggests that he could give Kauto Star "a bit of a scare" if Cooldine is right back to his best.
Cue the first raised hand. How, this man wonders, somewhat aghast, can we write off Denman so readily after just one bad run? Between us, we offer Denman's two other bad runs in the past year, his hard race in the Hennessy, his heart problem, and a distinct lack of recovery time before Cheltenham in defence of our stance.
Unavoidably, the topic of Tony McCoy's presence on Denman then gets aired. The consensus is that Sam Thomas didn't deserve to be taken off a horse that he won a Gold Cup and a Hennessy on, though that's qualified by our assertion that McCoy won't compromise Denman's chance.
Between the jigs and the reels, it comes back to Dickie again, who doesn't mind pointing out that McCoy, in the absence of a better Gold Cup partner, was hardly going to turn down the ride. Fair point -- you would think. Not in the eyes of one aggrieved McCoy fan, who wasn't going to let this slide after what had been said earlier. What had been said earlier?
Well, Norman didn't see the point in keeping his theory on Forpadydeplasterer between ourselves, so when the Champion Chase was discussed he decided to go public. Tom Cooper, who had kept his counsel up to now, responded by explaining the rationale behind his choice of race.
Firstly, he said, McCoy told him to run in the Champion. Then, to howls of laughter, he revealed, with as much seriousness as he could muster, that "Master Minded is on a downward slope."
It is at this point Dickie weighs in with: "The only thing I can say, Tom, is that AP must have a good ride lined up in the Ryanair, if he is advising you to take on Master Minded." In fairness, Tom takes all this in good spirit, which can't be said of our latest contributor from the floor.
"Hang on a minute now," he protests. "If Forpadydeplasterer runs in the Champion Chase, and if Forpadydeplasterer wins the Champion Chase, will Paul Tully be halving the price of Denman for the Gold Cup?"
Then we get an idea of his slightly twisted logic. "I mean," he deadpans, "Tony McCoy must know something about horses."
It was a slightly skewed interpretation of what we were trying to get across, but there was no one going to argue with him and his loaded delivery brought the house down.
Back in the residents' bar, as proceedings drew to a close, Cooper, sporting a wide smile after the earlier exchanges, was savouring one last pint. "Well, Tom, are you still going for the Champion Chase after all that," I enquire. "How can I?" he volleys with a glint in his eye, "sure I have to run in the Ryanair now!"
Not likely. Tom will shoot for the stars -- safe in the knowledge that Tony McCoy must know something about horses.