Donn's Articles » Bryan Cooper

Bryan Cooper

Decisions, decisions. Trifolium or Mozoltov. Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud had two horses running in last Sunday’s Grade 1 Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Chase at Leopardstown, and, no matter how talented a young rider you are, you can only ride one of them. Bryan Cooper chose Trifolium. The market said that he chose incorrectly.

It hadn’t always been thus. Before the turn of the calendar year, when Davy Russell was the Gigginstown number one, Cooper used to ride the one that Russell rejected and wear the white cap. There was the odd occasion on which the bounce of the ball favoured the number two – like when Cooper won the Grade 3 Star Chase at Punchestown in October on Toner D’Oudairies, and when he won the Grade 1 Champion Chase at Down Royal in November on Roi Du Mee – but, more often than not, the number one rider was on the number one horse and the number two rider picked up the pieces.

With greater choice, however, comes greater responsibility, greater pressure. The 21-year-old rider Cooper deliberated painstakingly over Sunday’s decision.

“In the end, I went for the horse with the greater experience,” he says thoughtfully. “Mozoltov is an exciting prospect, but Trifolium only had three lengths to make up with Defy Logic on their running at Leopardstown at Christmas, and Charles (Byrnes) had him in great form. Thankfully, it worked out.”

If Cooper was a different type of person, he might have doubted his own judgement. Some people told him before the race that he was on the wrong Gigginstown horse. The market sent Mozoltov off at 7/2 and Trifolium at 7/1, effectively saying that Mozoltov’s chance of victory was twice as good as Trifolium’s, and this even with the rider’s choice factored in.

“The race couldn’t have gone any better for me than it did,” he says. “We got a nice lead from Defy Logic, and my fellow switched off nicely. That was important, he can be a bit keen. If anything, we were in front sooner than ideal, Defy Logic made that mistake at the third last and we were left there, but he kept going all the way to the line.”

It wasn’t the first time that Cooper had had to decide between two Gigginstown horses. January 6th at Thurles, his first day, his first race as Gigginstown number one, and he had to decide between Toner D’Oudairies and Make A Track. He chose the former, and again the market said he chose incorrectly.

“To be honest, that wasn’t a difficult decision at all,” says the rider. Matter of fact. “Toner is a high-class horse, and I was surprised that they didn’t make him favourite.”

Toner D’Oudairies won, Make A Stand finished third.

“You’re not going to get it right all the time. All you can do is make your decision and give your horse the best ride that you can give him. And it’s great when you’re in the fortunate position that, if you do get it wrong, that horse will hopefully be there for you the next day.”

The decision to accept the Gigginstown job when it was offered last month was not a difficult one.

“It was a surprise, for sure. There were lots of rumours going around after Davy was let go, people saying that I had the job, people ringing me and asking me when it was going to be announced. But it was great when the offer actually came. I was honoured. It’s a great opportunity, going out every day riding these good horses. I’ve been very lucky.”

In a sense, it wasn’t easy for Cooper to move on from his job at Dessie Hughes’. He started riding out with Dessie when he was 13, and there is no limit to the depth of gratitude that he owes the trainer. But, in another sense, he hasn’t really moved on. He still rides out at Hughes’ several mornings a week, he still rides the Dessie Hughes horses when his new commitments to Gigginstown allow.

“Dessie has been so good to me,” he says. “He has taught me so much, not only about racing, but also about life, and I continue to learn from him. He told me that I had to take the Gigginstown job when it was offered to me. He made it very easy for me to tell him. In truth, I think that he knew before I did.”

Remarkable how radically and rapidly things can change. Cooper had his best season ever last year with 61 winners in Ireland and six in Britain. Three winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including that memorable win on Our Conor in the Triumph Hurdle, catapulted him from promising young rider with a future to household name. The world at his feet.

Then two significant events sent shockwaves through that world. First, Our Conor was bought by Barry Connell. Cooper’s flagship horse remained in training with Dessie Hughes, of course, but because his new owner had his own retained rider, it meant that he would be ridden in the future by Danny Mullins, not by Bryan Cooper.

Then, on May 6th, Cooper had a fall off Tepalo in a beginners’ chase at Down Royal and broke his leg.

“There is never a good time to get injured, but I suppose if there was a good time to do it, it was then. I was out for four months. I was lucky that I had good people around me, and I had lots of good advice from people like Ruby Walsh and Paul Carberry, but that was a long four-month spell. With Our Conor gone as well, you’d be wondering if you would ever get back.”

He has got back all right. Forty winners on the board already this season, despite the fact that he missed a large portion of it, and some of the choicest morsels to ride in the next few weeks in Ireland and at the Cheltenham Festival. First Lieutenant and Last Instalment and Trifolium and Rule The World and Don Cossack. And the rest.

More decisions to be made.

© The Sunday Times, 2nd February 2014