Don Cossack, the retired German-bred Irish-trained racehorse, thrilled horse racing enthusiasts with amazing performances even during the last legs of his career as a race horse. The horse managed to win during his final appearance at the prestigious 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Don Cossack's performance was really special to Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss. He described this victory as a surreal experience. This the second time a horse belonging to O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud has managed to win the widely sought-after Cheltenham Gold Cup. What increased the importance of the 2016 win by Don Cossack even further is that this one happens to be the first time in a decade that a horse from Gigginstown House Stud has tasted victory at the Gold Cup. War of Attrition won the coveted race ten years back.
On the other hand, for Gordon Elliot and Bryan Cooper, who were respectively Don’s trainer and jockey, this was the first-ever blue riband win.
About the win
Don Cossack, in spite of being a nine-year-old, was pretty authoritative during the race. He started the race being a 9-4 favourite, but turned out to be a true money-making tool for the bookmakers. In the race, he was followed by Djakadam in the second position and Don Poli in the third position; both these horses were trained by the former jockey and Irish racehorse trainer Willie Mullins. Mullins is yet to taste a win at the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The biggest turnaround of the race took place when one of the most powerful participants Cue Card fell before overcoming the 3rd last fence. Until then, Cue Card surely was one of the favourites to win the race. Cue Card’s fall allowed Cossack to speed up and complete the race keeping a pretty healthy distance from runner up Djakadam. Djakadam, a horse owned by Rick Ricci, achieved the second position event during the 2015 edition of Cheltenham Gold Cup. Don Poli, another horse from Gigginstown House Stud, stood third being ten lengths away.
Cooper, who was just 23 years old during the win at 2016 Gold Cup, had some really miserable experience on this track before this win. This makes the victory even sweeter. In 2014, Cooper broke a leg after falling of Fred Winter. Then, a few days before the 2016 edition of Cheltenham Gold Cup he saw No More Heroes, another horse trained by Gordon Elliott, withdraw from the RSA Chase after injuring a tendon. Cooper was expecting No More Heroes to deliver a good performance at the race, but his fate betrayed him here too.
Like most other top jockeys, Cooper also faces criticism from time to time, primarily for his riding style. He is mostly criticised by punters talking from their pocket. However, things appeared to be slightly more serious when after the 2015 edition of Ryanair, Elliot stated that Cooper rode Don Cossack “diabolically”. That’s possibly the reason why Cooper briefly put a finger on his lips after completing the race; he was desperate to shut all his critics up.
Before the race, Cooper had to choose between Don Poli and Don Cossack. Here, it must be noted that Poli was the winner of the previous year’s RSA Chase. However, from the very beginning, Cooper knew that he will be on Don Cossack when racing at the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Cossack took very little time to settle down and soon started jumping at the desired rhythm. When the race changed following Cue Card’s fall, Cossack was not at a very impressive position; he was at the 3rd last horse in the race at that time.
Cooper said that while most were backing Poli hoping that he picked the wrong horse, he managed to prove all wrong and show the world that Don Cossack was the best choice one could make at that time. The jockey also mentioned that the day was perfect both for him and the horse. The due got into the perfect rhythm; what’s more, Cooper also succeeded in making sure that Don Cossack doesn’t get crowded.
Cooper’s statements following the win proved clearly that he is sensitive to criticism. For instance, he said that most people believed that he didn’t have the skill to handle the horse and mentioned that he is really happy to prove all those critics wrong.
After winning the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Don Cossack was made the 6-1 favourite for winning the 2017 Gold Cup. The horse managed to get such odds in spite of having rivals like Coneygree, the winner of the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup, and Vautour and Thistlecrack, both of whom have a great track record. Here, it must be noted that Coneygree couldn’t take part in the race of 2016 due to injury (he also didn’t participate in the 2017 edition as a result of being seriously injured).
Retirement of Don Cossack
In spite of his shortening odds for the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Don Cossack didn’t participate in the race. He was retired after an old tendon injury played up which was originally sustained at Punchestown. Gordon Elliott had plans of bringing the ten-year-old racehorse back to track at the Gowran Park and start preparing for the 2017 Gold Cup. However, soon he got to know that the horse had a serious leg injury. His scan report revealed that the affected tendon featured a 15% tear.
Elliot said that Don Cossack's retirement marks a setback not only for him but also for Bryan Cooper and Gigginstown. It’s true that the fitness level the aging horse showcased in the past few weeks never allowed Elliot and other people associated with Cossack to be confident that he would be at his best again. However, they hoped that the horse would make a comeback and participate in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup as the defending champion.
For those who don’t know, the performance Don Cossack showcased all through his career makes him a racing legend. He had not only won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but also won a series of other Grade Ones including Down Royal, Punchestown, Aintee, and Fairyhouse. What’s even more amazing is that the final two seasons of his career saw him reign as the top-rated racing horse in Ireland and Britain. Cossacks retirement marks the end of an era in the racing circuit.