Bryan Cooper warms up for Cheltenham with Naas win
Partners Gordon Elliott’s Ball D’Arc to victory ahead of three Gigginstown runners
Bryan Cooper warmed up for Cheltenham with victory on Ball D’Arc at Naas. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Ball D’Arc came out on top as four Gigginstown House Stud-owned horses battled it out for the Naas Directors Plate Novice Chase.
Five runners were declared for the Grade Three contest, but the withdrawal of Oscar Knight, who is owned JP McManus, reduced that number by one and each of the remaining runners carried the familiar maroon and white colours of Michael O’Leary’s operation.
Gordon Elliott’s Ball D’Arc was a 2-1 joint-favourite in the hands of Gigginstown’s retained rider Bryan Cooper and quickened up well in the straight to score by 15 lengths from fellow ‘jolly’ Gangster, trained by Henry de Bromhead.
Elliott’s Prince Of Scars was a distant third, with the Mouse Morris-trained Alamein last of the four.
Cooper said: “I was flat out from the word go to be fair. I got a life down over the third- and fourth-last.
“I knew Gangster would take me halfway up the straight so I’d sit and wait. He would have plenty of gears.
“Probably that dead and drying ground wouldn’t be ideal for me. Gordon has done some job placing him and he’ll be a nice one to look forward to in the spring campaign.
“Just on that ground he struggles to travel early on but he stays two-and-a-half.”
When asked if picking his mount was a difficult, the jockey added: “If you look at his form last year it was the same and he came alive at this time of year.
“He would have bolted up even if the horse hadn’t fallen the last day at Navan.
“Gangster probably got flattered by his rating after being third to Yorkhill and Alamein won a terrible race.
“In my mind it was the right decision and hopefully I can keep getting them right for the rest of the week!”
IN the opener Bleu Berry got up in the shadow of the post to land the Irish Racing Writers Kingsfurze Novice Hurdle.
An impressive winner of a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse last month, the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old was the 5-2 joint-favourite for this Listed contest along with Minella Till Dawn.
Black Key took the field along for much of the two-mile journey, but dropped away before the home turn, leaving the JP McManus-owned pair of Minella Till Dawn and Outspoken vying for the lead.
Bleu Berry loomed up ominously under Paul Townend, but was untidy at the final flight and Outspoken would not go down without a fight.
After a ding-dong battle to the line, Bleu Berry claimed victory by a short head.
Townend said: “We always thought a lot of him after what he showed at home. He disappointed us last year, but this year he seems to be a different horse.
“I thought he’d thrown it away at the last, but he’s a smart horse and battled and ground it out.
“If he can smarten up his jumping there’s improvement in him, hopefully.”
Mullins swiftly completed a double as Townshend comfortably justified prohibitive odds in the John Kelly Beginners Chase.
The six-year-old was the 1-5 favourite having filled the runner-up spot on his fencing debut at Fairyhouse in January and the result was scarcely in doubt.
Townshend jumped slickly at the head of affairs in the hands of the trainer’s son, Patrick, and although the pack closed up rounding the home turn, the Rich Ricci-owned runner quickened up smartly from the final fence to score by 19 lengths from Teacher’s Pet.
“It was very straightforward. He’s not big but he’s a fantastic jumper. He has an awful lot of scope for a small horse,” said the winning rider.
“Thanks to Rich for letting me ride him. Myself and Jamie (Codd) are quite tight in the amateur championship and I think that puts me one ahead.
“I imagine he’s a horse they’ll have a bit of fun with in the spring festivals and he could probably even go on during the summer. He won in Perth last year so he probably handles good ground.
“He’ll be a right little summer chaser.”