Mr Mullins looks to have the Irish Trainers Championship all sewn up, though Gordon Elliott is doing his utmost to make a competition of it.
The jockeys’ title however, looks set to be a much closer encounter. It goes without saying, (though I will) that Ruby appears to hold many of the aces, and a strike rate of 29% puts him on top of the table at Christmas. However, in the red corner; well more maroon than red, is Bryan Cooper, first choice jockey for the mighty Gigginstown House Stud.
The meeting at Leopardstown over the Christmas period showed just how close this title race could prove to be. Both missed day one due to rather important rides at Kempton. However, day two saw Walsh strike with the Ricci owned Long Dog with Cooper less than a length behind aboard Gigginstown’s Tombstone. Ruby ought to have made it a double on the card, but Un De Sceaux fluffed his lines in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Chase.
A day later Cooper had a number of tasty rides, though chose the wrong one in the Christmas Hurdle when runner up to the impressive Prince Of Scars, before getting on the right horse to win the Lexus with Don Poli. And on the final day of the meeting, Cooper booted home No More Heroes, whilst Ruby had to work hard to get Nichols Canyon home in front, with Cooper just behind on Identity Thief.
It’s no surprise to see the two dominating Irish racing. Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown outfit are renowned for assembling a powerful team of jumpers, especially the type likely to impress over fences. Whilst Ruby, as number one for Willie Mullins, has a wealth of talent at his disposal including some of the best in the business owned by Rich Ricci.
Walsh took the title last year with Cooper some way back in fifth. But with just half a dozen or so winners between them at this stage of the season, we are set for an exciting tussle during the ensuing months. Cooper is settling in nicely to the role as Gigginstown number one. Still only a relative youngster at 23, many were shocked when he was thrust into the role, displacing the duel Champion jockey Davy Russell in the process.
The son of trainer Tom Cooper, Bryan started off riding for his father and spending school holidays working with Dessie Hughes and his team. His first win came at Clonmel in 2009 aboard Rossdara, trained by his father. He took the conditional championship in the 2010/11 season. He gained his first Grade 1 victory during the following campaign when Benefficient won the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The breakthrough really came at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2013 when he rode three winners, including the exceptional juvenile Our Conor. Like many jockeys, injury has played a part in recent times, but an uninterrupted spell is making for his most successful winter to date.
Nothing could be more thrilling for many a racing fan than the sight of Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy going head to head during their terrific battle over Christmas. But watching Walsh and Cooper fight it out aboard Nichols Canyon and Identity Thief was no less exciting. These two are masters of their trade. Both stylish in the saddle, with a great sense of pace, and then capable of beautiful balance during a driving finish.
Today at Punchestown the feature Grade 2 Dorans Pride Novice Hurdle pits Nambour for Gigginstown and Cooper against Up For Review for the Wylies and Walsh. It’s a typically exciting encounter sure to be seen again and again throughout the winter.
These enthralling head to heads will play a huge part in deciding the jockeys’ title. Ruby is as good as they get, but Bryan is undoubtedly gaining fast.