Jockey Bryan Cooper has insisted it is “business as usual” despite losing his job as retained rider to Michael O’Leary on Friday.
Just days before the Galway festival, the Ryanair boss’s capacity for confounding expectations was illustrated once again by the decision to adopt a “best available” policy with jockeys for his huge Gigginstown Stud team.
Cooper, 24, had been O’Leary’s No.1 rider since the start of 2014 and achieved some huge successes, most notably last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup on Don Cossack.
However in a meeting with the businessman yesterday, Cooper was told he will still be employed by Gigginstown but won’t have automatic first-choice anymore.
O'Leary's brother and racing manager, Eddie O'Leary, later said the position, which prior to Cooper had been occupied for six years by Davy Russell, will not be filled for the 2017-18 season.
"There are a lot of good riders out there, be it Bryan or Sean Flanagan or Davy Russell or Jack Kennedy. We'll be using the best available," he said.
O’Leary insisted there has been no falling out with Cooper, something the jockey also stressed.
“There has been no parting company or falling out and it’s business as usual. I look forward to continuing being part of the Gigginstown House Stud team and utilising existing relationships with trainers as a freelance jockey,” he said.
“We have enjoyed great successes and since taking the job I feel privileged and proud to have ridden 28 Grade One winners in the maroon and white silks,” he added.
Russell was famously informed he’d lost the Gigginstown job on New Year’s Eve of 2013 when invited for a cup of tea by O’Leary at Punchestown races.
Last September O'Leary also wrong-footed the racing world when dramatically removing 60 horses from champion trainer Willie Mullins in a dispute over training fees.
Cooper’s career has been interrupted by a series of injuries in recent years. He broke his leg in a fall at Cheltenham in 2014. He suffered a liver laceration and collapsed lung at last year’s Galway festival. He also broke an arm and his pelvis last season.
He picked the wrong O’Leary horse in last year’s Aintree Grand National and missed out on winning the world’s most famous steeplechase on Rule The World.