Sunday 21 January 2018

Cooper will keep Elliott guessing before he reveals Gold Cup decision

Gordon Elliott (right) with Don Cossack and rider Simon McGonagle during a press day at his Cullentra House stables in Longwood, Co Meath (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
Gordon Elliott (right) with Don Cossack and rider Simon McGonagle during a press day at his Cullentra House stables in Longwood, Co Meath (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

It is a sign of their growing relationship that Gordon Elliott could openly describe Bryan Cooper's ride on Don Cossack at Cheltenham last year as "deplorable" before expressing his hope that the young jockey would opt for him in the Gold Cup.

Both men are confident enough with the dynamic of their association to accept the reversal for what it was and move on. They are starting to gel.

In 2015, little went right for Cooper in the Cotswold amphitheatre. His defeat on Don Cossack in the Ryanair Chase, which is sponsored by his boss Michael O'Leary, was doubtless the most frustrating.

The talented youngster's only success came aboard Don Poli in the RSA Chase, so it is mildly ironic now that he must choose between those two conveyances in his quest to achieve the ultimate victory. Still just 23 years of age, the Co Kerry native was always going to have expensive learning days.

The last two Festivals have not gone his way; he broke his leg in a fall from Clarcam at the 2014 March showpiece before missing out on three final-day winners, two of which were partnered by his predecessor Davy Russell.

However, it is illustrative of Cooper's fledgling status when he points out that he wasn't even riding when Ruby Walsh had to choose between Denman and Kauto Star in the 2008 Gold Cup.

Following Davy Condon's enforced retirement, he has ridden more regularly for Elliott, aside from his link to the Gigginstown Stud bluebloods. Indeed, so has Russell, who is expected to fall in for the ride on whichever of the 'Dons' Cooper eschews. "I don't know why people can question Don Cossack's record in Cheltenham," Elliott said yesterday of the Gold Cup favourite's Festival record at a press morning at his impressive Cullentra Stables in Co Meath.

"He fell when travelling well the first day and got a deplorable ride last year from Bryan Cooper - he put his hands up and said it. It wasn't his finest hour, but we are a team here and we discuss it. Bryan knows what he needs to do the next day.

"I don't know if Bryan is going to ride him. I hope he does, but, if he doesn't, I'll have my arm around him as he's a big part of our team. I wouldn't be shocked if he didn't ride our horse. The Willie Mullins factor is a lot bigger than the Gordon Elliott factor.


"If Willie bounces out and has three winners on Tuesday, it has to be at the back of your mind. I think if the ground came up on the softer side, Bryan would definitely ride Don Poli.

"Davy sat on Don Cossack (at Leopardstown) and I wouldn't have any problem with him riding the horse. There was really nothing to him riding the horse on Sunday. Cheltenham is a long way away and there won't be a shortage of jockeys to ride him. Bryan says he won't decide until declaration time what he's going to ride. I'm sure in the back of his head he knows what he's going to ride, but he's not telling any of us.

"There'll be no pressure on him. I'm hoping I'll win the Gold Cup, but, if I don't and he's on another horse, I'll be cheering him on."

Cooper reiterated that he would be leaving late what is the most momentous decision of his short career.

"Everyone seems to know more than I do," he quipped.

"I don't know and I won't know until the Wednesday morning when I make my mind up then. There is no pressure on me, no rush, and a lot can go wrong between here and there and there is plenty of work to be done. Hopefully the two of them will get there in one piece and we can make a plan from there.

"If I get it wrong I will be kicking myself for six months after it, but that's the lucky position that I am in. I wasn't even riding when Ruby had to make the decision between Kauto and Denman, so, for me, to be in that position at 23, I'm just very, very lucky."

Elliott expects to have 25 Festival runners, and he and Cooper will also combine for the exciting RSA Chase favourite No More Heroes and the smart novice hurdler Tombstone, among others. Still only 37 himself, his ambition extends to one day dethroning the all-conquering champion trainer.

"I'm not into big cars or holidays or any other sorts of things, this is what I want," he declared of the vocation.

"If you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you might not be so driven. I get as much of a kick out of winning at Sedgefield as I do at Punchestown. I want to be like Willie Mullins and be champion trainer one day."

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