Donn's Articles » Bryan Cooper

Bryan Cooper 

One door closes, another door opens.

It was tough on Bryan Cooper when he lost the job as number one rider to Gigginstown House Stud during the summer.  One minute you have one of the best jobs in National Hunt racing, you have the deep pile luxury of consistently riding in the top races, some of the best horses in the business as vehicles.  Then, one conversation later, woosh, it’s gone.

The timing was not great for Cooper, a couple of days before the Galway Festival, moving into mid-summer when flat racing takes centre stage and the National Hunt headlines are confined to the festivals.  It’s summer jumping, spare rides are thin on the ground, opportunities to build momentum are limited.  Then again, there was never really going to be a good time.  When is a good time to walk away from Gigginstown House?

There were positives.  For starters, Cooper was not being replaced.  The plan was to have no Gigginstown number one rider per se, to use the best available, and Eddie O’Leary was at pains to point out that Cooper would still ride for them.  The door was not fully closed.

Sure enough, true to their word, Cooper rode A Toi Phil for Gigginstown House to finish fourth in the Galway Plate, and he has ridden winners for them since, Creation at Tipperary last week, Calino D’Airy at Galway on Tuesday.

There was also the manner in which Cooper handled the news: with class, with circumspection, with a maturity that belied his 24 years.  He thanked Michael and Eddie O’Leary for the opportunity that they had given him, he thanked them for their support since he took on the job in January 2014, and he said that he looked forward to continuing to ride for them.  All the toys remained safely in the pram. 

And there was Cooper’s talent.  That’s a constant.

The thing with a job like the Gigginstown House job is that it is all-consuming.  You cannot commit to other owners or trainers because your primary responsibility is to Gigginstown, and that responsibility is so great that it leaves room for little else.

That is not an issue while you are in it, while you are riding Don Cossack and Apple’s Jade and Petit Mouchoir and Disko to Grade 1 victories.  It does mean, however, that relationships that you have built up with non-Gigginstown trainers cannot be nourished.  Inevitably, they become dormant, and that is an issue when your time with Gigginstown comes to an end. 

You have to build momentum again, and that is not easy during the summer, away from the heart of the National Hunt season.  Horses have their riders, trainers have their riders, you have to re-establish links and wait for the opportunities.  If you are as talented as Bryan Cooper is, however, it is inevitable that those opportunities will arrive. 

He rode just one winner in Ireland in August, and he rode just two in September.  In the last two weeks, by contrast, he has ridden four winners: one at Galway, a double at Tipperary, one at Market Rasen in England.  There’s the momentum building right there.

There was talk of a move to England, but that talk was quickly scotched by the rider.  He would go where he needed to go to get good rides, he said.  If that meant that he was riding in England one or two or three days a week, that would be what he would do, but he would very definitely be based in Ireland.

He could travel over and back, he reasoned.  No problem.  Ruby Walsh did it for 10 years, Barry Geraghty does it these days, and look how successful they are.

It is not surprising that Cooper has already landed another one of the big jobs in National Hunt racing.  It did come a little from left field, mind you, when owner Alan Potts said during the week that Cooper would be first rider for his horses in Britain. 

It was strange to see Cooper clad in Potts’ green and yellow silks for the first time at Ludlow on Wednesday, and again at Newton Abbot on Friday and at Chepstow yesterday, but it is a sight to which we will get more and more accustomed as the season develops.

You have to feel for Robbie Power, who was brilliant on the Potts horses last spring, Pingshou and Fox Norton and Finian’s Oscar and Sizing Codelco at Aintree, Fox Norton and Sizing Granite and Sizing Codelco at Punchestown, Supasundae at Cheltenham and, of course, Sizing John in the Irish Gold Cup and the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Punchestown Gold Cup.  Potts says that Power will have first call on his horses in Ireland while Cooper will have first call in Britain.

For Bryan Cooper, it is a fantastic opportunity.  Horses like Finian’s Oscar and Fox Norton and Sizing Granite and Vision Des Flos and Pingshou and Sizing Codelco are his to ride as of rights now, as well as a host of other potentially high-class young horses that Alan Potts has with Colin Tizzard in Dorset.

More importantly, it is correct that a young rider with Cooper’s talent should have the medium through which to showcase that talent.  Gold Cup winning rider with 34 Grade 1 victories in his CV, you have to remind yourself that he is still only 25.  The door is wide open now.  There could be a really exciting season on the far side of the threshold.

© The Sunday Times, 15th October 2017