THE fortunes of Bryan Cooper can be traced back to a life-changing day exactly a decade ago when his father Tom’s Total Enjoyment won the Champion Bumper.
“I was just 10. I had a week off school, and led the horse back into the winner’s enclosure and said to Dad that ‘I want to be like Jim Cullotty one day’,” recalled Cooper. “Jim was awesome, he won a third successive Gold Cup the next day on Best Mate, and I knew then that I was going to be a jockey.”
Cooper’s dream came true last year thanks to a tactical masterpiece aboard Benefficient in the Jewson Novices’ Chase before a final-day double on the mud-splattered Our Conor in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, and then the gutsy Ted Veale in the County Hurdle.
And not even a broken leg, suffered after two high-profile wins at Aintree, has inconvenienced Irish racing’s new sensation – he became the first jockey to Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s all-conquering Gigginstown House Stud over the New Year.
The 21-year-old, who continues to be based at the County Kildare stable of trainer and mentor Dessie Hughes, has already done justice to the iconic maroon and white-star colours of Gigginstown.
He astutely chose Trifolium over a more fancied horse in the Irish Arkle – and his judgment was vindicated with a Grade One win at Leopardstown. It is form which led to Cooper nominating the horse as “his most likely winner of the week” when he lines up in tomorrow’s Racing Post Arkle Trophy. “He couldn’t have done it any better,” the jockey told The Yorkshire Post. “He’s beaten the best of the Irish novices bar Champagne Fever. I think he’s the one they’ve all got to beat. Top class horses win Arkles.”
As Gigginstown’s first jockey, Cooper is unlikely to know until the last minute whether he will be reunited with Tony Martin’s Benefficient in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase – it depends if First Lieutenant goes for this race or the Gold Cup.
But Cooper does ride Mouse Morris’s Rule The World in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and the likes of Big Buck’s and Annie Power hold no fears. “He’s done nothing wrong, Mouse holds him in the highest regard and the race is wide open.
“I’m not on Our Conor for Mr Hughes in the Champion, the owners retain Danny Mullins, but I ride the horse at home – he’s stronger this year and Cheltenham will bring out the best of him. It was great to get three winners on the board last year. I’ll just settle for one this year – it’s what every jockey wants. Anything else is a bonus.”