Thursday 12 December 2019

New Year, same old story but Cooper must stay positive

Johnny Ward

Bryan Cooper may have been relieved to see 2016 end, but 2017 brought about no change beyond a date. That a pelvic injury will render him sidelined for up to eight weeks gives the 24-year-old plenty about which to ruminate. He may have neared 'Auld Lang Syne' reflecting on Don Cossack but also scarred by more recent blows.

Cooper missed August with a lacerated liver and collapsed lung. A broken arm thieved him of most of October. He had 437 Irish rides last season, 176 so far this term.

Cooper endured a leg break in 2013. When he did so again in 2014, suffering what Dr Adrian McGoldrick called "the worst fracture I've seen in a lower limb", doctors said he could lose his leg.

For those of us who don't ride horses, it is impossible to contemplate the mental strain this would entail, not to mind the physical pain, and of course we all think of jump jockeys as iron men.

There were racecourse whispers last year that his enviable but pressure-heavy Gigginstown role could come under scrutiny, which seems absurd given his age and that yesterday was only the third anniversary of the O'Learys' decision to replace Davy Russell.


That said, Cooper is said to be something of a worrier and the dramatic emergence of crack duo Jack Kennedy - who won the Lexus last week - and Grand National winner David Mullins - who rode a treble yesterday - has to be giving some rise to concern.

Cooper can seem defensive when questioned on why he picked one horse over another. That he'd no winner at Christmas until the second half of day four was startling but his reaction when interviewed was more impressive than most would have recognised. "It's great to get a winner. I'd no hard-luck stories and if you pick from five in a Lexus you can't always get it right," he said.

As Eddie O'Leary said, Cooper deserves luck reversal. Dessie Hughes is not around for wise counsel. He must not rush back, nor lose sight of what he has achieved at a tender age. He could look to Ruby Walsh, who yesterday began his 23rd year as a jockey. Cooper reverts to a routine he is becoming grudgingly familiar with. He must be positive, look to Cheltenham and recall the buzz Petit Mouchoir gave him on Thursday. Those two stories might yet merge.

Mullins and Harrington know of highs and lows too

Is any sport so vulnerable to the vicissitudes of fortune? Not only Cooper can attest but Jessica Harrington too: reviewing last week's Grade One winner Our Duke on Saturday, she revealed Grade One third, Sunni May, since died of a suspected heart attack.

Willie Mullins lost Vautour in early November and could not call on either Annie Power or Faugheen for combat between the summer rest and New Year's Day. The formality that was his trainers' title became anything but, as he approached Christmas the guts of half a million off Gordon Elliott.

Then Leopardstown arrived and he banged in 22 winners across that festival and Limerick's. Elliott has seen his lead eroded and is not regretting he has been at pains to play down his chance all along.

Though we saw none of those three Mullins-trained greats over the festive festivals, nor either of the last two Gold Cup winners, it was compelling from start to finish. The betting side of it can cost us sight of a greater power and wagers went out the window when Douvan and Thistlecrack won their Grade Ones.

People knock racing - horses running in a field and all that disdain - but here we had the two best chasers in training putting in awesome rounds of jumping, yet as similar as Siberia and Sahara.

ITV, its coverage too off the ground, must be excited so. Contrived cross-presenter "banter" aside, yesterday was a good start. Its concept and agenda seemed to function pretty seamlessly.

TV3's initial offering was a last-minute job by comparison - it conceded itself that it had some issues - but this is new territory for both. Even Douvan, even Thistlecrack, can make mistakes.


Barry Geraghty was sensational on Bleu Et Rouge, which put in a horrible jumping round, at Leopardstown.


"You're not happy doing it: you do it because you love it. There's not a hope I would stay at it if I was younger."

- Michael Hourigan on training.


Wow. We've just seen a monster. #Thistlecrack.

Michael Owen (@themichaelowen) sums up the King George quite neatly.


The Crafty Butcher, 8/1 into 11/4 in the 28-runner Paddy Power, went so close.

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