Cheltenham Festival: Baby-faced Cooper underlines status as new Irish hero

Successive victories on final day cap a superb week for heir apparent to McCoy and Walsh

Cheltenham Festival

After the trauma, the rapture. Bryan Cooper is 20 years old, going on 15. The mud splattered around his mouth and cheeks after his second winner of the day might have been a comedy beard introduced to add substance to a face yet to feel the cold embrace of a razor.

On Gold Cup day it fell to the kid from Kildare to lift the sombre mood that had settled in the lee of Cleeve Hill following the calamitous fall of J T McNamara the previous afternoon. Cooper is the lad talked up as the heir to the fabled Irish trio of A P McCoy, Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty. Before the convenient withdrawal of Sunnyhillboy released McCoy to fill the vacancy on Sir Des Champs in the big one, Cooper was in the slot to replace the unfortunate Davy Russell.

Cooper went to post for the first race, the JCB Triumph Hurdle, on Our Conor, still processing the elation of a maiden Festival winner the day before. If his ride on Benefficient delivered a shock result in the Jewson Novices’ Chase, Our Conor shaped an entirely different experience, with Cooper tearing up the hill to bring  a leading Irish hope home by 15 lengths.

For the four days of the Festival this barrio is arguably the biggest Irish settlement outside Dublin. An estimated 15,000 passed through the turnstiles, a good number waiting for Cooper in the parade ring. The walk of champions from tape to winner’s enclosure is a career highlight for any strapped to a saddle. Cooper was at full height in his stirrups and draped in the tricolour to receive the benediction of the madding crowd. 

“I was looking [in the race], I thought the other horses were hiding or something. He has such a touch of class. I had to pinch myself. I’m sure it will snap in the next week or two,” Cooper said of his second Festival win. His third would come on Ted Veale in the very next race, the Vincent O’Brien Handicap Hurdle. The margin, a length and a half, was less emphatic but left him no less ecstatic.

“When I got my first winner the other day I would have settled for that, I’d achieved what I wanted to achieve. To get two more, especially on Gold Cup day is magical.”

And masked, no doubt, any disappointment he might have felt after deferring in the Gold Cup to the great McCoy. “I didn’t really think about being in the race too much. There are a lot of jockeys ahead of me with a lot more experience, the likes of Tony McCoy. I said to myself, ‘If it happens, it happens’. I’m not complaining. I couldn’t have asked for more. The Irish in the crowd, the atmosphere they give you is unbelievable, the cheering and the flags. They are a great bunch.”

Who’s to say the Cooperman’s innate feel would not have fed Sir Des Champs past Bobs Worth in the desperate churn up the hill that ultimately decided the Gold Cup places? Maybe next year. Cooper has had the week of his life, the soaring flip side of a business that can just as easily break a soul in two.

The plight of McNamara cast a shadow over Cheltenham. Even at the embryonic career stage, Cooper understands that results are not the only measure of success in this game. 

“We are all thinking of John Thomas so much,” he said. “It’s so sad. He’s done so much for racing and had so much success, we wish him the very best. And I’d like to dedicate these winners to him. That’s the other side of the sport that people don’t realise.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea