Galway Races Festival BSI

Bryan Cooper Tells of Galway’s Thrills & Irish Horse Racing’s Future

We caught up with recently retired jockey Bryan Cooper who told us of the thrills of the Galway festival and concerns over Irish racing’s future.

Cooper revealed that the Galway Festival is one of the best places to ride a winner because it sets a jockey up for a competitive season.

The former Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey also discussed the need for a Netflix-style, behind the scenes documentary to attract more interest in the sport following news that Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing could be forced to stop broadcasting in Ireland due to the new gambling bill.

What is it like riding at Galway?

There’s not a lot of big races for the jump jockeys aside from the Galway Plate and Hurdle, so we get to enjoy the festival a little more. I missed it for four years in a row through injury, so I’ve been able to see both sides of it when I go down and enjoy myself. People that have no interest in racing always go to Galway.

It’s a great festival with good racing and prize money, it’s one of the great events of the year.

It’s very competitive and Galway is a tricky track to ride so no race is easy – it can also get very tactical when the ground is quick.

The jockeys do enjoy things a little more and might go out for dinner together, whereas you might not do that at Cheltenham or Leopardstown because it’s a bigger event. We may stay down later in the week and have dinner and drinks afterward as well.

Galway is a great place to ride a winner

… it might be an ordinary race but you get a great buzz out of it because of the atmosphere from the crowd so it means a little more than other winners.

Having a winner does boost your confidence and it’s a great place for conditional or apprentice jockeys to have a winner that could kickstart them for the season and they might be a name worth following as they attract attention from bigger trainers and the opportunities that follow.

Is a mixed card something that should happen more often, in the UK too?

Mixed meetings happened a lot in Ireland but the ground conditions can be hard to get right for both codes, no jump jockey wants to be riding on good-firm ground whereas the flat jockeys prefer it when the ground is quicker, so it’s hard for the racecourse to get it right so we pushed for no more mixed meetings when I was riding.

You get the big crowds in for the jumps racing more than flat

Galway’s crowds on Wednesday and Thursday are bigger than any other day, the jumps is more entertaining.

Is Gigginstown winding down a blow for the sport?

I’ve been to the sales a lot since retiring and have been involved with the bloodstock and Gigginstown are still active at the sales, they’re still buying and they’re going for quality over quantity. They may have bought 25-30 store horses but they’re not buying as much but are spending more money on better horses.

I don’t think Michael O’Leary will ever be out of the game, he loves racing. His kids are getting a little older and he’s not seen at the race as often as he was but his brother Eddie is still very involved. They won’t be going anywhere for a while.

Michael O’Leary loves winning and he lets you know when you’re not winning. He’s competitive, he’s a businessman and he wants results. He likes his statistics and appreciates it when you’re going well. He loves the big days at Cheltenham, Punchestown, and Leopardstown. He’s great for the sport and I was very lucky to be a part of the team he has for a long time.

I could pick up the phone to Michael or Eddie at any time and ask them for advice on anything and they were very good to me. They were very supportive when I announced my retirement.

How serious is the news that Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing could stop broadcasting in Ireland due to the new gambling bill?

People that aren’t involved in racing like to go and have a small bet and they’re the type of people that you would like to try and get more involved in racing. It’s scary that the racing might not be broadcast on TV. You need to show racing on TV to attract a new audience, just like every sport that is there with rugby and GAA. We’re in a big spot of bother if Irish horse racing isn’t broadcast.

The next week or two will be really important for racing in Ireland. Broadcast advertising and funding rely heavily on betting companies and if they aren’t able to promote what they do on live TV then they will lose a lot of money. I’m hoping Sky and Racing TV don’t follow through with the threats because there will be a big problem.

I’d love to see other companies get more involved in racing sponsorship because it’s such a great industry. I found it quite hard to get sponsorship as a jockey compared to athletes from other sports. We just need to show how good a sport racing is and try our hardest to get people from outside the industry into it, by doing that we might get other brands sponsoring.

I watched the NFL documentary that came out last week, every sport is doing it now. I know we had the documentary with Oisin Murphy on Prime, but…

it would be very beneficial to the sport if there was a Netflix documentary that came out

…because that’s how you’re going to get more people involved in the sport.

What Oisin Murphy, Tom Marquand and Hollie Doyle are doing is fantastic on social media, they’re very good at it. I think a few people in Ireland should start doing it as well. A lot of the top jockeys in Ireland aren’t very good on social media but it’s a big part of the world now and it’s the way to go for getting yourself out there.

Horse Racing Ireland are doing a lot of stuff on social media and the more that this continues then you hope the more it will drag people from outside the industry to come into it.

The Future Of Horse Racing

Would you welcome in-running upgrades to revolutionise racing – GPS, live trackers etc?

Aiden O’Brien uses GPS at Ballydoyle when the horses are exercising and his results are standing out above everyone else at the minute. Other sports use it, soccer, GAA, rugby, so maybe it would help.

It will be interesting to track some of the speed and fractions that you’re doing furlong to furlong, that might help – though a jockey might come in for some criticism if they go too fast early on in the race, you have no way of hiding and the trainers might not be happy with you. I think it might work well and could be good going forward.

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