The most famous story about George Best — at least off the field — is one probably everybody has heard.
You know the legendary tale about the hotel room, the former Miss World he was dating and the thousands in cash lying on the bed. The money was won at the races or the casino, depending on what you read.
Anyway, George ordered room service and when the waiter arrived with the vintage champagne, he posed the question to the glamour boy of soccer: “George where did it all go wrong?’’
You suspect jockey Bryan Cooper may have asked himself the same question a few times over the last two and a half years or so. The thought struck me when watching the largely disgarded Tralee pilot giving Latest Exhibition an inspired ride to land the Grade 2 Novice Hurdle at Navan last Sunday.
It was a welcome turn for a man who has been struggling not just for winners but to even get on horses for a long time now.
In Best’s case he decided women, gambling and drinking were more important than football and it was entirely predictable that was t the road to ruin.
No such accusations can be levelled at Cooper, obviously, yet his has departure from the top table has been no less spectacular.
He has, of course, been dogged by injury and there is no doubt that has played a major part in preventing him from reaching anything like his full potential.
Indeed, in the early part of his career, I well remember remarking to a former press room colleague, Thomas Weekes of irishracing.com, I would be very surprised if he wasn’t champion jockey some-day.
Such thinking didn’t seem overly fanciful when Cooper struck up a terrific partnership with the juvenile hurdler, Our Conor, trained by his mentor, the late Dessie Hughes.
Our Conor was unbeaten in three races over flights at home, before challenging for the 2013 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Going off at 4-1, Our Conor and Cooper produced a spectacular performance to win by 15 lengths. The young man was clearly on his way!
The notion he might be champion jockey seemed even less fanciful in early January of 2014 when Michael O’Leary’s powerful Gigginstown House Stud unveiled Cooper to replace Davy Russell. Cooper was just 21 years-of-age.
A couple of months later, however, on the second day of the Cheltenham festival in March, Cooper had the worst possible luck.
He took the most awful fall off Clarcam at the second last, in the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle, and suffered a dreadful leg break, fracturing his tibia and fibula. It could have been career-ending and he spent six months on the sidelines.
Outside of that, though, it has to be said his relatively short time with Gigginstown was extremely successful winning 28 Grade 1’s in those famous colours.
Cooper rode some really good horses for them, the likes of Don Cossack, Apple’s Jade, Don Poli and many others. The best day clearly came aboard Don Cossack in the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Cooper was superb, sending his charge into the lead after the third last and this thorough stayer never flinched in the closing stages to beat Djakadam and Ruby Walsh by four and a half lengths. The now 23-year-old had the racing world at his feet.
The reality, however, was to prove somewhat different. In late July of 2017 Cooper got the bullet, following Russell out of the door as Gigginstown top dog. It would be the easy to criticise Gigginstown, but suffice to say it takes two to tango and let’s leave the matter at that.
Both the O’Learys and Cooper said there had been no falling out, with Eddie O’Leary indicating there would still be “buckets of rides’’ for Cooper. I think it is fair to say that has not been the case.
When Russell was inexplicably sent-packing he managed to reinvent himself, but Cooper has not been so lucky.
He has been running up hill ever since and is simply no longer regarded as being among the elite jockeys in Irish racing.
You need a major power in your corner to succeed in Ireland. Paul Townend has Willie Mullins, for instance, Russell and Jack Kennedy have Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown, Mark Walsh has the backing of J P McManus, and Rachael Blackmore has Gigginstown and Henry de Bromhead.
But, with the notable exception of Latest Exhibition’s trainer, Paul Nolan, Cooper does not appear to have very many pulling for him.
Last weekend revealed all you need to know. At Fairyhouse on Saturday, he had no ride and his only one at Navan on Sunday was Latest Exhibition. He had two rides at Naas on Monday and they were for Paul Nolan. He has no ride at Thurles today.
So, it is still difficult to understand, watching him on Latest Exhibition, why he is not in more demand.
It was a brave enough call by Nolan and the horse’s owner, Jim Mernagh, to nod in favour of Cooper, especially taking on such a high-profile horse as the massive hot-pot, Andy Dufresne.
When Latest Exhibition blundered badly at the sixth last, the immediate suspicion was the six-year-old now had little or no chance of being competitive against his classy front-running rival.
But Cooper fired his partner at the next flight and Latest Exhibition flew the obstacle to get back in contention.
Then Cooper took on Andy Dufresne off the home turn and it was some battle over the final three hurdles.
There was a drive, a determination, almost a savagery about his riding up the straight that was compelling and, in the end, Latest Exhibition proved much the stronger.
Still, Cooper can do nothing without the assistance of decent horses. Does he deserve a break? I think the answer is yes.
WHAT a heartbreak horse the Willie Mullins-trained Blackbow is proving to be. In the 2017-18 season he was one of the best bumper horses in the county, winning twice and putting up even better efforts in defeat.
For instance, he was a creditable fifth behind stable companion Relegate in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and runner-up behind another Mullins inmate, Tornado Flyer, at the Punchestown festival in April of 2018.
But he had a setback after that and wasn’t seen again until reappearing in a maiden hurdle at Naas last month.
Backed as if defeat was out of the question, the 4-9 shot had 24 opponents to beat, Blackbow went down by half a length to Joseph O’Brien’s Embittered.
He tried again at Navan last Sunday and was hooded for the first time. Blackbow attempted to make all the running, but raced freely and did not convince with his jumping.
He still held the call, though, when taking a helpless and rather inexcusable fall at the last.
Maybe, Mullins will soon decide fences is the way to go!