Saturday 21 April 2018

Elliott praise for 'horse of a lifetime' as Don is retired

Bryan Cooper kisses Don Cossack after last year’s Gold Cup victory. Photo credit: Tim Goode/PA Wire.
Bryan Cooper kisses Don Cossack after last year’s Gold Cup victory. Photo credit: Tim Goode/PA Wire.

Johnny Ward

If consolation could be sought by Gigginstown racing manager Eddie O'Leary, it is that he retired as the Gold Cup holder, bowing out at the top.

Yesterday morning's announcement, issued via a Ryanair press release, that Don Cossack would not run again, brought a curious fusion of sympathy and relief. Not long ago Vautour suffered death after a freak injury but Don Cossack - which had a similar aura of greatness - will be indulged in retirement in the manner of royalty.

This most beautiful of jumpers, so striking in the sunshine that he appeared to change colour from bay to black, always drew admiring glances wherever he went.

His Gold Cup victory last March, a critical success for young rider Bryan Cooper, was the day his greatness was secured but a subsequent tendon injury thieved him of Punchestown combat.

Never did trainer Gordon Elliott nor Gigginstown contradict a party line that one could tell every one of his connections bought into wholly: everything would be done right by the horse. So when a scan on Tuesday illustrated heat in his leg and a 15pc tear of the tendon, there was never going to be any encore.

"My wife Anita, Eddie and I would like to sincerely thank Gordon... and all the team at Cullentra House for the outstanding job they did in managing Don Cossack's career. Gordon left no stone unturned to help (him) return to defend his title but alas it is not to be," Michael O'Leary said in a statement.

"At the age of 10 we are all agreed that the best thing for 'The Don' is a well-earned and very well-pampered retirement in Gigginstown."

Elliott admitted that the news was "a real sickener for Gigginstown, myself, Bryan Cooper and the whole yard.

"It was never certain we would get him back to the racecourse and even after that, to get him back to his best, but we were hopeful and he was on track for a run at Gowran next month.

"He's a horse of a lifetime and owes us nothing. I said all season that if he had any sort of setback at all we would not abuse him and retire him straight away.

"He's won Grade Ones at Cheltenham, Aintree, Punchestown, Fairyhouse and Down Royal. He was the top-rated horse in Britain and Ireland for the last two seasons running and we'd have loved to see him take on Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup. It would have been a cracking race.

"That's racing, as they say, and we have to let that go now and find something else to take on Thistlecrack. He retires a champion," he told his Betfair blog.

Don Cossack won 16 of his 27 races, including six Grade Ones, Cooper winning on him on seven occasions.

The rider, injured at the moment, told the Irish Independent: "To get to three weeks off a run, nearly all the hard work put in, is frustrating; Gordon did tremendous work to get him so far. It would've been great to have another cut at it, find out where we stand, but he has a Gold Cup won.

"Growing up it was always the race I wanted to win; I never thought I'd do it at 23. He was tough with a high cruising speed and jumped very well - every horse can fall. It is clear that he was 10lb better on good ground; then he was in a league of his own.

"Eddie is a genius at buying a good-looking horse but he will go down as the best looker he bought. You couldn't draw him if you tried."

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