Aintree glory for Bryan Cooper

Pat Griffin

Can it possibly get any better for hugely talented 20-year old jockey Bryan Cooper from Tralee, who went to Aintree on Friday last and won the prestigious £84,500 Grade 1 Betfred Bowl Chase for Fethard, county Tipperary trainer Mouse Morris, and owners Gigginstown House Stud?

Three winners at the never to be forgotten Cheltenham meeting last month seemed to be the ultimate achievement, but to go to the Grand National meeting at Aintree and win one of the big races of the second day, for his very first victory at Aintree, was something that jockeys only dream about.

Riding his Cheltenham runner-up First Lieutenant over the famous Mildmay course, Cooper produced a brilliant confident riding performance against one of Britain's best jockeys, Richard Johnson, and Ireland's best Ruby Walsh. Jumping well, he tracked the leaders before engaging in a ding-dong struggle for supremacy from the last, where Cooper excelled in getting a great response from his willing partner to outstay Menorah and hot favourite Silvianiaco Conti by less than a length in a thrilling finish.

Cooper was only riding the horse because Davy Russell, jockey to the owner Michael O'Leary, is prevented from riding in Britian by the BHA until he has surgery on the lung he punchered at Cheltenham last month. Cooper grabbed his gilt-edged opportunity with both hands.

"This horse has been so good to me and has been a model of consistency," the Tralee man said. "He has been knocking on the door in so many big races, and has ran against some of the best horses in training, Bobs Worth the Gold Cup winner, and Tidal Bay. I am delighted for the connections that he has finally got his head in front. He thoroughly deserved that, and has finally proved how good he is. He was on and off the bridle during the race, but he jumped superbly, which was a huge help. I knew he would stay, but I did not want to get to the front too soon. I winged the last two fences, but he's very tough and gave his all to the end.

"When I rode three winners at Cheltenham I was thrilled, and said to myself, that's my season topped off nicely. But it's important to be focused and keep performing well to the end of the season if possible. I feel for Davy Russell, but a win like this is marvelous for the trainer and Mr O'Leary."

On Saturday at Aintree Cooper was the focus of attention on the Morning Line on Channel 4, again acquitting himself with distinction, while giving viewers his each-way chance for his mount Rare Bob in the National, which finished fifth at 16/1, having been backed all day from 25/1.

Little did he know at the time that a few hours later he would be called up to substitute for injured jockey Andy Lynch on the Henry de Bromhead trained Special Tiara, 40/1 to 28/1, in the valuable John Smiths Grade 1 novice chase. In yet another brilliant riding performance he ran on well from two out, under a strong drive from the saddle, to win by two lengths from Overturn.

Cooper again made the headlines at the concluding stages of the Fairyhouse Easter meeting, which concluded on Tuesday, winning the big featured handicap hurdle worth over €37,000 to the winner, on 12/1 chance Captain Arceus, for his retaining stable of Dessie Hughes. In a positively brilliant drive from the last, his style, talent and strength were all in ample abundance as he forced the consistent 7-year old up near the line for a thrilling short head win from Sizing Machine.

His amazing winning run continued at Limerick races on Sunday where he was in double winning form, on Legal Exit for Churchtown trainer and Killarney native Jim Culloty in the 2ml 4f novice hurdle, before scoring his 60th win of the season in the featured Hugh McMahon grade 2 chase on hot favourite Argocat for trainer Tom Taaffe, scoring easily by five lengths.

Apart from the local domestic action, which is the bread and butter of racing, Cooper can look forward to some more quality mounts later this month at the Irish National Hunt Festival at Punchestown, which commences on Tuesday April 23 and runs until to the Saturday.


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