Bryan Cooper is resigned to missing out on Sunday’s prestigious Grade One card at Leopardstown and now hopes to return to action the following weekend.
Gigginstown Stud’s number one jockey fractured his pelvis in a fall at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve, the latest in a series of injuries that have plagued Cooper this season.
The 24-year-old rider had held out lingering hopes that he might make it back in time for Sunday where he could have had the pick of the two market leaders – Don Poli and Empire Of Dirt – for the €150,0000 Stan James Irish Gold Cup.
However, he always stressed he wasn’t prepared to rush back too soon in order to make Leopardstown, and is instead now targeting a comeback the following weekend.
“It will be the following weekend now, two weeks hopefully. I’ve to see my doctor next Tuesday and hopefully I’ll get the all-clear then,” Cooper said. “I’ve missed a lot of big winners and it’s frustrating, but I’m used to it by now.”
The biggest of Gigginstown's winners Cooper has missed was Petit Mouchoir landing the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle just over a week ago, when David Mullins successfully stepped in for the ride.
Mullins was also on board Don Poli when the former dual-Cheltenham festival winner bounced back to form with a vengeance with a second to Outlander in the Lexus over Christmas.
Don Poli is now likely to form part of a two-pronged Gigginstown assault on Sunday's big race, which is the centrepiece of the only programme in Ireland to contain four top-flight races.
Four weeks out of Cheltenham, the card is sure to contain plenty of festival significance, although the Irish Gold Cup itself could be dominated by some leading Grand National contenders.
Don Poli and Empire Of Dirt are the leading Irish-trained horses in ante-post betting lists for Aintree in April and they also top the market for this weekend’s race ahead of Tuesday’s important five-day declaration stage.
Don Poli is 3-1 favourite for Sunday with some bookmakers, and trainer Gordon Elliott said: "The more rain that falls, the better chance he has. He seems in good form and I think he has a right chance. All Empire Of Dirt's form is in handicaps, so this will be a step up for him."
With Willie Mullins indicating Djakadam is likely to go straight to Cheltenham for the Gold Cup, the biggest threat to Michael O'Leary's hopes for a third Irish Gold Cup victory could come from his great rival JP McManus.
The hat-trick-seeking Carlingford Lough will be joined by the Jonjo O’Neill trained Minella Rocco, leaving Barry Geraghty with a choice as to which one he rides in a race he has won just once before – on Alexander Banquet in 2002.
“Carlingford has won it for the last two years and obviously has a great chance again. Minella is a young horse on the up so it’s a tough decision,” said the rider, who pointed to Minella Rocco’s defeat of Native River in last season’s four-miler at Cheltenham as evidence of the younger horse’s quality. “Native River has made that look good, so it’s going to be no easy call.”
Geraghty also faces a likely Grade One quandary in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, with Joseph O’Brien preparing to run both Landofhopeandglory and Housesofparliament.
Landofhopeandglory failed to confirm Fairyhouse form with Bapaume at Leopardstown over Christmas where Housesofparliament – third in the St Leger last September – was runner up to Merri Devie on his jumping debut.
“There’s a good chance both will run. We’ll have to see about ground, but both are in good form. Landofhopeandglory has more experience than the other horse and things didn’t work out 100 per cent for him at Christmas,” O’Brien said. “You’d hope the other horse would come on for his first run.”
Ground conditions at Leopardstown are currently “soft”, although the track is forecasting a mostly dry week ahead.
Sunday’s two other Grade One contests are the Deloitte Novice Hurdle, won for the last four years, including last year with Bleu Et Rouge, by champion trainer Willie Mullins, and the Flogas Novice Chase.
Mullins has seven of the 21 entries still left in the latter event ahead of the five-day stage, including Bleu Et Rouge, who unseated Barry Geraghty at the third fence of the Arkle Chase just over a week ago.
Sunday’s card is also set to host the return to action of the champion hunter chaser, On The Fringe. Enda Bolger’s star has completed the hat-trick of festival Foxhunter victories at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown over the last two years.