‘While they keep Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson out of the Cheltenham winners’ enclosure, I’ll support them’ – top jockey backs Irish to continue racing dominance
Ahead of the start of the Galway Festival next week, former top jockey Bryan Cooper says he has no issue with the dominance of the big three yards in Ireland – including one he used to ride for – as it will keep the Brits out of the picture.
Cooper, a former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and one of racing’s superstar jockeys before surprisingly retiring aged 30, was speaking to BoyleSports, who are offering the latest Galway Festival odds:
“Well, they are spending the most money on horses at the end of the day and they have the big owners behind them.
“I was talking about it after Punchestown, and you think that maybe the Flat was a bit different, but you look at the Flat now and the maiden results, you’re either Aidan [O’Brien] first and second, Donnacha [O’Brien] third and Joseph [O’Brien] fourth.
“They are dominating the Flat as well and there is less being spoken about it because there is more high-powered money behind it.
“I think you have to admire what Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead are doing because these people have 200-odd horses, you expect them to get results and if they aren’t then they are not going to be supported.”
Irish Racing is in much better shape than British racing
“We do things differently over here. You can see it at the sales, I have been active myself, but Paul Nicholls is spending as much money as anyone else, he was spending big money on top lots at the sales. Nicky Henderson has some big owners behind him as well.
“But I have to admire what Willie and the rest are doing here as they have taken it to a new level. We are competing with each other each weekend over here from November all the way through to Punchestown and all the best horses are taking each other on.
“Whereas in England they’d rather run a good horse in a two or three-runner race and not have a hard race, but over here, we will take each other on, and it probably hardens the horses for when they go across the water because they are getting harder and more competitive races.
“Willie isn’t afraid to run three or four in a Grade 1 around Leopardstown, that’s what he targets and you can find that a horse who finishes second or third there, could run out at Cheltenham and win.”
Racing in Britain
“I think it is diluted a bit, yes. It’ll be interesting to see what they are doing with these big Saturday meetings in the new calendar but they don’t have a Dublin Racing Festival in the UK six weeks prior to Cheltenham with a Grade 1 on the card for every horse to run in.
“In the UK they only really have Kempton on Boxing Day and then they can dodge each other all the way to Cheltenham.
“But if you want to run at Grade 1 level over here you have to show up at Leopardstown in February and if you want to be good enough to go to Cheltenham, you have to compete here. Otherwise, you don’t deserve to go over.
“I loved the big days, even in the latter part of my career, I might have been riding the favourite but I was still competing for Gordon, Willie, Gigginstown, Noel Meade, all of them. I was very lucky to pick up some good spares and win on them, that just shows the calibre we have here.”
Riding for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown
“You always had a target on your back, but Gordon was and still is very, very competitive. I don’t think people realise how competitive he is, how much he wants winners, how much he wants to be Champion Trainer, you have got to admire him for that.
“Ok, he might present himself sometimes differently than the way Willie Mullins might, Gordon might be a bit angry after races don’t go his way but that is just pure competitiveness. It’s like a soccer manager or a GAA manager – their will to win is second to none. He doesn’t like finishing second, he’s not happy if you do and it’s on a horse who should have won and I completely understand that.
“He always prepares his horses well – they jump well and they travel, which makes a jockey’s job so much easier. When they are good rides, it’s a lot easier.
“Look, through the years we had our differences but he was always supportive of me and I always admired his determination to keep coming back.”
It’s every man for himself when racing at Galway
“You always find that trainers are mapping out their horses for this time of year. Maybe the bigger jumps trainers won’t have many of their big guns in Galway but they still select and point out races for their horses.
“There’s still a lot of pressure riding out in a Galway Hurdle or a Galway Plate, they’re both incredibly competitive races, with a lot of money on offer and it is every man for himself out there.”
Hints, Tips and Thoughts on Galway Festival
You need to take a chance to win at the Galway Festival unless you’re near the front
“It can get quite rough and tumble around Galway! It’s certainly not gentlemanly going around there; there are hard luck stories more often than not.
“You need to get a good spot, especially in the Hurdle, Plate, and also the big mile race on Tuesday. It’s always a big cavalry charge, everyone wants to be in the first four or five and there’s probably 20 runners in there.
“You find a lot of them will get shuffled back a bit if they don’t travel, if they steady the pace from the front and you’re stuck in behind then you might as well say goodbye to winning as you’ll do well to get into it from the back of the pack.
“You can come from off the pace but you need a lot of luck. Getting into the dip, all the way around the swooping bend and then into the straight, you will have a lot of horses coming on top of you. You need to be tactically good around there, be aware, maybe take a chance sometimes sitting on the inner and it can open up.
“Other days you might not come off the bridle but you’ll finish seventh or eighth, it’s how quick they go earlier on. It sounds simple but the slower they go at the start, the quicker they’ll finish and the quicker they go at the start, the slower they’ll finish. If you’re in the box seat, you are in the best position.”
It is very hard to win at the Galway Festival – I should know
“The prize money that is on offer for both the Plate and the Hurdle at the Galway Festival is very high, you also have the 2m6f Hurdle on the Saturday which is a Listed race now too, so there are three very competitive handicaps. Some trainers map it out for the year to win at Galway and it is very hard, trust me, I have tried a lot of times.
“I was second in the Plate, second in the Hurdle last year; there’s probably a better type of horse running in them now than, say, ten years ago.”
Galway native Rossa Ryan is enjoying a strong season
“I followed him quite a bit as I had heard a lot about him, I think he is a bit younger than me. I remember hearing his name on the pony circuit, and then he went straight to the UK and obviously was with Richard Hannon, riding a lot of winners for a lot of trainers, too but was maybe struggling to break on to the bigger stage.
“Then he had the AMO Racing job but lost it, though that has shown the true character that he is, coming back from that and getting to the top level. This was a very important year for him, and he is riding better than ever.
“He took matters into his own hands on Shaquille. That was a spare ride he had there as Oisin Murphy was suspended but I like his attitude, he is getting the results he deserves now.”
Galway Plate predictions at the Galway Festival
“I like Kilcruit. Willie seems to target these races with his second season Novices, and they have a great record in it, he did it with Royal Rendezvous two years ago, and Balko Des Flos did it for Henry de Bromhead – they both had the same profile; winning at Punchestown Festival and then backing it up at Galway.
“They were probably Graded horses in handicap company and if the ground is good in Galway, Kilcruit is a very nice racing weight.
“Hewick is very much a fans favourite. Shark Hanlon has done very well with him and has given Hewick a worldwide tour at this stage, you’d probably find it difficult to find tickets if he went on tour for a meet and greet with Shark and Hewick.
“I also like Final Orders. He fell in the Topham at Aintree, but he had won six on the bounce prior to that, won on the Flat last time out at Bellewstown off a nice mark and Galway is a jumping track, if he gets into rhythm then he is a cracking each-way bet. Gavin Cromwell’s yard is flying at the moment as well.”
Galway Hurdle predictions
“It’s [Galway Festival] very competitive, probably more so this year than what it was last year. Sharjah is the standout, but he will have to be very good to win it this year, he got turned over at Tipperary.
“I like Merlin Grant for Emmett Mullins, I think he has been mapped out for this race since his run when beating me at Fairyhouse at the Drinmore meeting in 2022. His last two runs have been a bit disappointing, but the owner Michael Mee loves having runners at Galway and Emmett in these handicaps, you can’t forget about him.
“It is also very interesting to see how Tony Martin has managed to get Tudor City back off the exact same mark that he won off last year. It’s a very impressive training performance, he won back on the Flat three weeks ago at the Curragh.
“I’ll never forget last year that I got off him to ride Jessie Evans for Noel Meade, I was coming up the run in and I could see a horse in a fluffy noseband coming right behind me and chinned me on the line, lo and behold it was Tudor City.
“I remember Tony saying to me that I was so silly to get off him because he knew he’d win. Tudor city does need dry ground though, that’s the key, proper good ground. We have had a wet couple of weeks here in Ireland so that could hinder his chances.
“Zarak The Brave as well, he has shown some good juvenile form for Willie Mullins earlier in the year. It is a hard race though for four-year-olds. I do like Merlin Grant though, there is more left in the locker.
The Galway Races Summer Festival (Galway Festival) takes place from Monday 31st July to Sunday 6th August 2023 and is widely regarded as the highlight of the summer season in Ireland. The Tote Galway Plate day takes place on Wednesday 2nd August and features one of the biggest races, worth €250,000. Galway Festival Tickets are available to purchase on the day, or in advance.