Willie Mullins Cheltenham_F

Bryan Cooper Explains Irish Racing’s Dominance Over The UK

At BoyleSports we caught up with Bryan Cooper who discussed the the topic of Irish racing’s dominance over the UK in recent times.

The biggest festival in horse racing is of course Cheltenham and it usually gives us a great indicator of where racing in Ireland and the UK is at.

In this year’s Prestbury Cup Ireland were dominant with 18 wins at Cheltenham compared to the UK’s 10. In fact, Ireland have now won four straight Prestbury Cups and the UK haven’t won the cup since 2015 with Ireland winning the event each year since then bar one tie in 2019.

So what are the reasons for Irish racing’s dominance? Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey Bryan Cooper gave us his insight into Ireland’s success and where the UK could be going wrong. Cooper also discussed life after being a jockey and the differences between the new and old generation of jockeys.

Dominance of Ireland’s Big Trainers – Mullins, Elliott & De Bromhead

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.

I admire them for doing it, they have the firepower behind them to do it, and while they keep Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson out of the winners’ enclosure at Cheltenham then I will always support them!

Irish Racing 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.

These younger horses need experience at the top level. Cheltenham is a very hard place to tackle and I think we don’t shy away from running ours against each other. There’s more racing in the UK so there are more options for horses to be spread out a little bit and I think that’s why we are dominant as ours are more dominant and seasoned.

Racing In The UK Is A Bit Diluted

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.

I could ride a 16-1 shot in a Grade 1 and he could pop up and win, that just shows the firepower we have and I was delighted to be involved with those trainers.

What It Was Like Riding for Gordon Elliott

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.

Moving into the sales

I have been active, built up a connection with some people who want me to find them a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse!

I was always involved in sales when I was younger. I was very lucky, I suppose, I had a couple of people approach me at the stall sales this year and try to find them a couple of horses. They gave me a nice few quid to spend but it is a very big responsibility. I love the buzz of it, trying to find a new one.

I’m a lot more at home as well now in Kerry, helping my Dad out but I don’t think I will ever transfer the name to Bryan Cooper the trainer. I’ll be the helping hand here, but I am happy behind the scenes. I know when to give my opinion and it’s good when we can bounce off each other.

I have been at a few yards throughout my career and have picked up bits and pieces. And yes he does listen to my opinions!

I love this punditry side of things too, it is something I am really keen on getting into. It is not easy to get into as there are a lot of people doing it but I enjoy it a lot.

Bryan Cooper On Retirement

Not at all. I miss maybe the craic in the weighing room but not the buzz of riding, which is strange because I thought it would hit me at some stage but I am very content.

I definitely won’t be making any shock comebacks. I don’t think I will be doing a Davy Russell, not unless Willie Mullins calls me to come back as first jockey or something! But they have a lot of lads in there now so I highly, highly doubt that would ever happen.

I am very content in my decision. I am looking forward to being there on a different side of the fence this year, maybe being a bit more controversial to the lads riding and giving my own opinion whereas I had to be a bit more careful when I was riding.

I was a yes man for 15 years – I don’t have to be that any more.

The Difference Between New And Old Generation Of Jockeys

I think I probably should have kept my opinions quiet sometimes, it maybe got me in trouble! Racing is a bit different now, it’s a real young lads game and competitive. Trainers are a bit more cut throat too as there are so many good riders.

Maybe ten years ago we were stuck in the era of Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Paul Carberry, then maybe there was a bit of a gap to the others, they were a step ahead.

There was no disconnect but you certainly had to show them respect. I think that’s changed now though, since they have gone the respect has gone out of it and I won’t be the first person to say that either, I think a lot of jockeys my age would agree with that.

I came in and was afraid to say boo to Ruby and Barry Geraghty but they sure helped me in my career, pulling me aside to offer advice if I was doing something wrong but they would also pull me aside and give me a bollocking.

I just feel now there is a change in era, a lot of the young lads have egos. You don’t need an ego but you need to be competitive. The likes of Ruby, Barry and Paul and Robbie [Power] were my idols.

I was so lucky to be able to compete with them and it made me the jockey I was, watching them, and competing, made me a better jockey and got me to the bigger stage sooner rather than later because I had to compete with them.

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