Delighted to Welcome Padraig Harnett to the CONNECT team, Padraig is renowned in Kerry in the sporting circles so we are looking forward to his contributions over the coming issues in his ‘Moments in Sport’ slot. First to chat with him is top jockey Bryan Cooper who is looking forward to the most important time of the year in his sport with the Cheltenham Festival taking place from March 10th to the 13th inclusive.
Bryan is just 22 and the son of trainer Tom and Geraldine Cooper and went to the Green where he completed his Junior Cert. “It was always going to be a career in racing for me. I remember my parents won a pony when I was very young and once I jumped up on Snowy’s back there was no going back. I took part in my first race at 14 and learned my trade with my father and in the yard of Dessie Hughes and Kevin Prendergast”.
Bryan’s first race on a proper racecourse was on the Curragh in September 2008 and he rode his first winner on board Rossdara, a horse trained by his father in October 2009.
His career has gone from strength to strength with Cheltenham 2013 being a real highlight. “I have been very lucky to ride some great horses and had some big wins but the 3 at Cheltenham will live long in the memory. I also finished 4th in the Grand National and the following January I joined Michael O’Leary’s Giggenstown’s Stud as their retained jockey.
However sports can be cruel and Bryan had his experience with the down side when he suffered a bad leg break following a fall in the Fred Winter during Cheltenham 2014. “Yes it was a bad break but I was well looked after and had the support of my family and friends and that was really important in my recovery. Jockeys now receive the best possible medical treatment and I always knew I would get back racing”.
So what’s a typical day for a jockey if there is one? “Well if you are going racing that can be a long day with the work to be done before hand and of course the travelling but on a day where I am not racing I am up early and we begin riding out around 7.30am. We finish up around lunch time and then it’s a matter of getting proper rest, nutrition and enjoy a bit of down time.”
And so for the rest of the season it’s all eyes on Cheltenham? “Yes it won’t be long coming and Giggenstown have some great horses that are being prepared for the Festival. But it is important for any sportsperson to keep focused on the immediate – for a footballer it’s the next game while for me it’s the next ride. I do my very best on every horse and the big days will take care of themselves. I am lucky that I don’t really do pressure. It’s about mental and physical preparation and of course the joy of getting paid for doing something I love doing. Long may it continue?”