Ahead of Monday’s Irish Grand National, we spoke with Billy Cooper, the breeder and owner of the race favourite, Our Duke. Trained by Jessica Harrington, Our Duke is set to take his chance in the most valuable National Hunt race ever staged in Ireland. An impressive Grade 1 winner at Leopardstown at Christmas, Our Duke is coming in to the race in great form.
Our Duke is a home bred horse is that correct?
Yes, Our Duke is a family bred horse. There’s four of us, all my own family, involved in total. I’ve been breeding horses for around 30 years and Our Duke is not the only good horse we’ve had. We had a good horse called Billy To Jack who unfortunately suffered a freak injury as a 6yo. Our Duke is out of the same mare as that horse and there are two others – Oscar Sam and Ask Granny – also in training with Jessica Harrington and who are also out of the mare Good Thyne Jenny.
Has the Irish Grand National always been the aim?
We bypassed Cheltenham with Our Duke as I didn’t think he had enough experience to go for a hard race like the RSA Chase. It’s a race that can often be quite hard on horses. I thought he would be better off staying at home and going to Fairyhouse or Punchestown rather than taking on Cheltenham. Our Duke has only had three runs over fences and although he won a very good Novice Chase at Christmas, his jumping wasn’t all that great. He is still not a super jumper but if everything was to go to plan please god he could go for the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. He ran very well at Christmas when he won his Grade 1 and he’s certainly a very good horse.
Looking ahead to the race, how are things shaping up?
So long as the ground is slower than good on Monday he will take his chance. We will be watching the weather over the weekend and on Monday and we are hoping for slower ground. If Monday is a good day then the ground will dry out which is a worry as the race is not until 5 o clock and the ground could be well dried out. Our Duke is our first runner in the Irish Grand National and it’s great to have a live chance. He’s the current favourite which is less than ideal for me because I don’t think favourites have a great record in the race! Jessica Harrington is a brilliant trainer and she wil have him right.
What would it mean to win the Irish Grand National?
People have asked me recently what would it be like to win an Irish Grand National and I suppose the easiest way to describe it is that it would be like winning the All Ireland! Someone else also asked me would I prefer to win the lottery or the Grand National and even though I hadn’t thought about it, after a bit of pushing I finally said I’d rather win the National!