Saturday 24 February 2018

Cooper can follow Russell's revival

Changing his agent a sign that top rider appreciates long road ahead

Bryan Cooper needs to follow the example of Davy Russell (right) in how to get his career back on track after a setback. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Bryan Cooper needs to follow the example of Davy Russell (right) in how to get his career back on track after a setback. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

Let us go back to January 3, 2014, just days after Michael O'Leary had turned what appeared to be a cup of tea with Davy Russell into a sacking.

"I can confirm that Bryan Cooper will be our No 1 retainer," said Eddie, the Ryanair chief's brother. "He's a very good rider and I hope it will be the start of a long and happy association."

Tellingly, he added: "Davy will continue to ride plenty for us. There has been no falling out of any kind."

Now, let us fast-forward to the Friday before the 2017 Galway Festival, when Cooper lost his job as the retained rider, compelling the 25-year-old to issue his own statement. Notably, he put one sentence in bold type: "There has been no parting company or falling out."

One had to fashion a wry smile when noting the similarities between the two statements, three-and-a-half years on.

Cooper, whose time at Gigginstown has been cruelly interrupted by injuries so horrific that words here are hollow and redundant, is not nearly as popular with trainers as one would think.

Given that there is almost nobody in the country that would not consider him one of the top five riders when he is fit, it is somewhat shocking that in the last 10 meetings he has ridden at, he had only one ride in eight of them, a pair each in the other two and none at all at Downpatrick yesterday.

Many of these were mixed meetings, of course, but if Cooper became complacent in terms of outside mounts when cocooned in a maroon retainer, his recent alliances have been sufficiently sporadic to prompt him to leave agent Kevin O'Ryan and join Ciaran O'Toole as he starts a new, seminal chapter in an up-and-down career.

That move is clearly significant and, given his age, Cooper can see an ally in time.

Davy Russell now seems to be the preference of other trainers - that he rode Balko Des Flos in the Galway Plate would suggest he is liked by Henry de Bromhead.

"We discuss the relevant riding arrangements with each trainer and we pick whoever the trainer thinks suits the horse. We intend using Bryan a lot still, but there is no number one, nor two, nor three, nor four," said Eddie O'Leary.

Clearly, Cooper must look to how Russell embraced a practical approach back in 2014, when it seemed easier to sulk in the corner and take comfort in all the assurances that he had been treated unfairly. I recall hearing many of them at Tramore that New Year's Day, but Russell's stoic demeanour, it transpired, was no false front.

"I am very disappointed. I am not disappointed with Michael O'Leary, if that's the way he feels, then that's the way he feels. But I am disappointed for myself. I'm a big boy, I know what I am going to have to do now and that is to work very hard," he said then.

Intriguingly, 22 riders have teamed up with Gigginstown this season already and, if Cooper can get a clean, injury-free run, he should get back on the horse - but, with no major ally as a trainer, it will not be easy in this country.

It is interesting that he has left O'Ryan, given that the only other jumps jockey on his books is Russell. The latter has finished in the first three on the majority of his mounts this season and O'Ryan said: "Davy will go anywhere for something that's fancied. He suits me down to the ground. His attitude and hunger is unbelievable."

Launch of Festival just champion

The launch of the Longines Irish Champions Weekend (ICW) at the Merrion Hotel on Wednesday in Dublin was clearly intended to send out a message about the class and flair that Horse Racing Ireland, Leopardstown, and the Curragh feel two of the best days' racing in the world ought to represent.

Longines would not attach itself to such an event without plenty of rumination and it was perhaps no coincidence that the watch maker's colour (blue) was represented by the walk-in carpet leading people in to the five-star hotel.

I had never interviewed Ryan Moore - the undoubted star of the show - before and asked a British colleague what it might entail. He recalled once sitting down with the laconic Brighton native and, having made "a stupid factual error in an early question", Moore's answers were of the short variety thereafter.

Given that he had come over to Dublin free of charge, and his purportedly frosty relationship with the media, Moore was a pleasure to deal with and again evinced the basic truth that he who says little is far more interesting to listen to. On this occasion, he gave yours truly alone over half an hour, and never impressed that impatience was winning the battle.

He was a suitably overseas big-name. Leopardstown CEO Pat Keogh and Leopardstown's chief Derek McGrath spoke - Keogh, as ever, recalled Polonius' suggestion in Hamlet that brevity was the soul of wit - and their speeches were notable.

Keogh stressed that the ICW must continue to improve and attract that Japanese horse that seems the holy grail. McGrath, whose background is not in racing, referred to media rights - without which Irish racing would be in big bother - and how the sport must continue to evolve.

In a spectacular setting, the bright side of Irish racing shone like a colt's coat in the heat of the summer, and the challenge for Leopardstown will be to build on the crowds that the track has attracted so far. The Curragh's capacity is now up to 7,000, with the in-field to be used next month.

Keane well able in close title race

Colin Keane moved eight winners clear at the head of the jockeys' championship at the Curragh yesterday, as he hit the 55 mark for the season.

It says something for Keane's hunger that he has ridden for 67 different trainers this year, the vast majority of his winners coming for boss Ger Lyons. His victory yesterday put him eight winners clear of Pat Smullen and he is now a massive threat to Smullen - but do not rule out Donnacha O'Brien entirely.

While O'Brien would need a spectacular run towards the end of the campaign, if he is in with a shout expect his father Aidan to give him extra support, and the same can be said of his brother Joseph.

Kudos, too, to Jamie Spencer, who hit 2,000 British winners over the weekend. Spencer tweeted on Saturday that it was 14 years since "this gent left us", honouring Kieran Kelly. A touch of class from a classy rider.

And it was heartwarming to see Ana O'Brien pictured walking around the yard at home during the week. "Lucky and unlucky," according to her dad, she continues to recuperate after a Killarney fall.

Ride of the week

Donagh O'Connor is developing a nice relationship with Eleuthera and he got up near the wire to win again under a patient ride at Tipperary.

Quote of the week

"I bought her as a present for my wife (Amanda) from Maurice Burns so happy days. Although she called me and told me 'why didn't you tell me to come down?'"

Willie McCreery after Raramauri came through to win the five-furlong fillies' maiden in Tipperary under Nathan Crosse.

Gamble of the week

There was a major move around noon on the day of the race for Multiviz, trained by the in-form Sheila Lavery, at Leopardstown on Thursday. With 20/1 snapped up, the horse was sent off 13/2, but never really looked like winning under Wayne Lordan.

Tweet of the week

Chris Cook (@claimsfive)

"Admired was withdrawn by Newmarket stewards because she was late getting to the track. Lives 2 miles away at Sir M Stoute's yard."

Journalist Chris Cook on a strange occurrence at Newmarket on Saturday.

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