Bryan Cooper hoping to get Ryanair call right on Empire Of Dirt

Ruby Walsh can get his first winner of the week on Yorkhill in the opening JLT

Jockey Bryan Cooper. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Jockey Bryan Cooper. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire


As tyrannies go, Bryan Cooper’s choice of the Gigginstown empire isn’t tyrannical enough to make anyone feeling sorry for him. Nevertheless the jockey will be keeping his fingers firmly crossed he has picked right in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase.

Picking between Empire Of Dirt and Sub Lieutenant is just the latest example of how being No 1 rider to Michael O’Leary presents its own set of headaches.

Cooper famously got his pick of the ‘Dons’ right in last year’s Gold Cup. Less than a month later he got the Aintree National spectacularly wrong and had to watch David Mullins ride Rule The World to victory.

At Christmas Jack Kennedy won his first ever Grade One on the discarded Outlander in the Lexus but it’s Mullins and Sub Lieutenant who Cooper will be keeping half an eye on during a Ryanair that O’Leary seems especially determined to finally win this year.

Securing his own money has proved particularly difficult for the Ryanair boss during the 11 years he has sponsored this race and it seems he is trying to make up for it with a vengeance this time.

If it’s a reasonable guess that Gordon Elliott’s preference for Empire Of Dirt would have been the following day’s Gold Cup, then even Don Poli’s defection from the ‘Blue Riband’ couldn’t shift O’Leary’s mind that the proven festival winner was going for his own race.

The owner won’t care which of his pair wins but it will matter a great deal to his jockey that he gets it right.

Cooper famously got it very wrong indeed in the 2015 Ryanair, finishing third on Don Cossack and incurring Elliott’s wrath for what the trainer called a “deplorable” ride. Last year no one landed a blow on Vautour but Cooper was third on Road To Riches, a place behind Mullins on another O’Leary runner, Valseur Lido.

First Lieutenant and Mossbank are Gigginstown horses to have also filled the Ryanair runner-up spot over the last decade, so the pressure will be on to finally get the job done.


With ground conditions apparently quicker on the ‘New’ course, and getting quicker all the time, the long-time favourite Un De Sceaux is starting to look vulnerable, while the 2015 winner Uxizandre is held by the Mullins star on January running.

So in the circumstances it would hardly be the strangest thing to happen this week if the Gigginstown pair dominated the finish and at the likely odds Sub Lieutenant appeals as the value option.

If the suspicion lingers that Empire Of Dirt might be best served by the Gold Cup challenge, then the Ryanair terms and conditions could have been drawn up for Sub Lieutenant in terms of distance and ground.

The Henry De Bromhead-trained star is also a spectacular jumper and Mullins has won on three of his four spins on him.

Ruby Walsh has his own Grade One quandary aboard Yorkhill in the JLT. Last year’s Neptune winner is almost certainly the most talented in the race. But his jumping can be patchy and his various quirks mean Walsh is hardly likely to be seen striking for home coming down the hill.

It’s a mixture that makes the prospect of trading at short odds a rather sweaty one but if it goes smoothly for the champion jockey then Yorkhill could ultimately win easily.

“Yes, he’s difficult at times but he has a serious engine,” Walsh said. “He can be a challenge but I think he’s very good. He could be a Gold Cup horse this time next year.”

Willie Mullins could also present a popular short-odds option after finally opting to take the mares novice hurdle route with Let’s Dance. The ultra-progressive filly would have been a leading contender in any of the open novice races but in theory this is the easiest option for her.


The query is the trip as Let’s Dance is likely to be best over further than two miles. That will encourage some decent opposition, including her prolific stable companion Airlie Beach and Jessica Harrington’s Forge Meadow. On balance though none of them will relish taking on Let’s Dance and the trip is two miles and a furlong.

Presenting Percy’s handicapping by the BHA authorities has been the focus of plenty of attention in the run-in to the festival but even allowing for that, it’s still easy to think that the horse still has an outstanding Pertemps chance.

Just a 10lb spread covers the 24-runner field and this is a horse who has oozed potential towards being a lot more than just a handicapper.

Last year’s Coral Cup winner Diamond King is likely to be a major fancy in the handicap chase. But this looks a good chance too for Starchitect, who had no luck at all in last year’s County Hurdle and looks set to step up significantly over fences.

The Irish, armed with some quality amateur riders, will be fancied in the Kim Muir, although the shrewd Lucy Wadham puts Potters Legend into this. This one had a nice course run behind Royal Vocation last time and his rider looks competent.

Brian O’Connor’s tips: 1.30- Yorkhill. 2.10- Presenting Percy. 2.50- Sub Lieutenant. 4.10- Starchitect (Nap). 4.50- Let’s Dance. 5.30- Potters Legend

Nap and Double – Starchitect & Potters Legend

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