Cheltenham Festival: Opportunity knocks for the next Ruby on primed Sir Des Champs

A look ahead to the Gold Cup

The vacancy is not just for a mount in a steeplechase, but for a place in history. For while Sir Des Champs holds outstanding claims in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, the one thing he was lacking on the eve of the race was a jockey. A heartbreaking injury to Davy Russell left connections facing a dilemma – and a blossoming rider on the brink of a momentous breakthrough.

At 20, Bryan Cooper is the most luminous new talent to emerge from the shadow cast by the likes of Ruby Walsh, Tony McCoy and Russell. He only rode his first Festival winner on Thursday and Willie Mullins – in contrast, Ireland’s most prolific Festival trainer – may well be unnerved by the prospect of turning to a relative novice to redress the most painful omission in his own CV. But most of those who together comprise a vintage generation of jump jockeys are already engaged in the big race, and the rules do not permit a jockey like McCoy to defect from an outsider to one of the favourites.

Mullins first had to consult Michael O’Leary. The Ryanair boss, who retains Russell, was horrified to learn that the jockey had punctured a lung in a fall the previous day. O’Leary asked Cooper to ride First Lieutenant, who finished second in the big race he sponsored on Wednesday’s card, and last night it seemed as though the young man would now be given a still bigger opportunity.

According to Tony Martin, it will be fully deserved. The trainer of Benefficient was thrilled with Cooper’s winning ride. “This is the next Ruby,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, Ruby, Barry Geraghty, Paul Carberry and Tony McCoy are out there on their own – but this young fellow is on the way up, and will be there when the others are long retired.”

And punters should take a similar view of what has become a puzzling market. Long Run remains the most accomplished horse in the field but finds himself behind three others, all novices last season, in the betting. When he won this race two years ago, he saw off two other Gold Cup winners in Denman and Kauto Star, and he has just won his second King George VI Chase. That was as grim and gruelling a race as has been run all winter, run at a reckless tempo through the mud, and Long Run was the only one able to hang in there. Captain Chris arrived from way off the pace to join issue in the run to the last and Long Run and his excellent amateur rider, Sam Waley-Cohen, both showed terrific heart to prevail.

The fact remains, however, that he could manage only third last year. And even his trainer now seems to believe that Long Run could do with some fresh impetus. Nicky Henderson has decided to fit him with cheekpieces today, and the word from Seven Barrows is that they have had a startling effect on his preparations. None the less, with however heavy a heart, it seems reasonable to expect one of the graduating novices to deny him the top of the podium. But which one is best equipped to make that final step?

Silviniaco Conti still has most questions to answer. He has made surprising improvement this season, and his jumping will be a crucial asset – not to mention Walsh in the saddle. But Long Run was rusty when running him close enough at Haydock in November, and you have to doubt whether Silviniaco Conti can stretch his energy in so extreme a test of stamina.

Bobs Worth does look rock solid. He has won novice races at the Festival over both hurdles and fences, and made a seamless transition to the senior ranks when winning a very strong Hennessy in November. The one and only reservation is that he remains relatively short of experience for this kind of test, having been forced to miss his intended trial. This will be only his sixth start over fences.

In contrast, Willie Mullins has given SIR DES CHAMPS a classic, step-by-step build-up to his big test with three races in elite company at level weights. Like Bobs Worth, Sir Des Champs has won both his starts at this meeting, on both occasions over shorter trips and strongest at the finish. After merely blowing away cobwebs behind the top-class Flemenstar on his reappearance, he showed just why Mullins was taken a patient path back here when jumping without fluency in the Lexus Chase. He was beaten less than a length, even so, and everything duly clicked into place when he outstayed Flemenstar in his final rehearsal, at Leopardstown last month. The runner-up was admittedly found to be below par, but that does not alter the fact that Sir Des Champs – having made just ten starts in his life – combines an unexposed profile with an artful degree of seasoning.

Those looking for big value should keep in mind Sunnyhillboy. His priority is again the National, but he flagged up his brilliant run at Aintree last year by winning well at this meeting and could surpass expectations at a huge price for the men who mourn Synchronised. Representing the stable he does, however, Sir Des Champs is nearly guaranteed to reach a new peak today. Primed week by week for the last 12 months, and with his stamina finally brought fully to bear, he can complete a nightmare for poor Russell – and a dream for his replacement.

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor