By Isaac Murphy
Cooper Dooper announced himself as one of Queensland’s most promising dogs last preparation, running second in the Group 2 Queensland Derby Final and qualifying for the inaugural Group 3 Golden Ticket.
Trainer Tommy Tzouvelis says he could mix it in any grade as his journey to the Winter Carnival continues at Ipswich this Saturday night.
“Everything went wrong first up, he copped more checks than a bank teller and pulled up pretty sore, so I gave him a couple of weeks to get back on his feet,” Tzouvelis said.
“In hindsight I probably brought him back a bit early after he picked up the virus, he wasn’t quite wound up and it’s probably worked in our favour giving him a few weeks between runs.
“Cooper was one of the fortunate ones who didn’t get it too bad, some dogs were losing up to two or three kilos, he lost a bit of weight but nothing drastic.”
With health in the rear-view mirror, Tzouvelis is ready to unleash a new and improved dog, who he thinks can take his trial form to the track this weekend.
“He’s had a couple of trials now and looks back on song going 24.99 over the 431 on Monday at Ipswich,” Tzouvelis said.
“It all comes down to how he steps from a good draw in box three on Saturday and if he can avoid trouble early, you’ll see him back in the winner’s circle.
“If he doesn’t come out it’s race on, because as strong as he is down the back and home, you’ve got Infrared Lad in the eight who has just as big an engine and loves it at Ipswich so it’ll be good viewing if they pair off.”
Cooper Dooper spent much of his infancy racing over the sprint trips at Ipswich and Tzouvelis thinks a trip back to the track will be just the tonic to rejuvenate the dog.
“He’s always gone well at both Albion Park and Ipswich, with the Golden Ticket and the Gold Bullion at Albion Park he’s just had a lot of starts there in a row, so we decided to change venues and go back to a track where he’s always run well at,” Tzouvelis said.
“Hopefully if we continue to race, he’ll find himself back at Albion Park as we get closer to the Winter Carnival, you never want a dog to get stale, so I think Saturday night will be a good change.”
Tzouvelis admitted the dog’s rise from mediocrity to almost knocking off Australia’s hottest pup, Simon Told Helen, had taken him by surprise, but he was determined to find another level with Cooper.
“His jump he made from a handy 520 metre dog to a perennial Group contender over the last six or so months was massive, I thought he could get there but probably not as quick as he did,” Tzouvelis said.
“You always want that improvement to keep coming and I’m confident he can put himself in an even higher class if we can get him nailing his starts.
“It’s been his achilleas heel especially in full fields which he’ll be racing in come the Winter and if we can sort that out I think you’ll see the time of 29.79 behind Simon Told Helen go down significantly, because he’s only getting stronger as he approaches three in September.”
Tzouvelis said he’ll be drawing on all his training experience to give the dog everything he needs to be at full steam when it matters.
“I think he can ultimately be a big player in the Winter Carnival, but the big thing with Cooper is that he’s a confidence dog and it’s up to me to find races like Saturday night that I think he can win building towards that goal,” he said.
“If everything goes to plan and timing is on our side, he’ll be back up to one hundred percent fitness when the big dogs come to town.”
Although he’s never raced outside of Albion Park or Ipswich, Tzouvelis said Cooper was the star of a growing fan club in New South Wales courtesy of his owner Mark Johnston.
“He’s formed a bit of a cult following Cooper, his owner Mark Johnston who’s involved in the horse racing and footy scene down at Dubbo has plenty of mates who like a punt and love to jump on every time the dog races and were especially happy after he got rolling last prep,” Tzouvelis said.
“We got to know each other going up to the Darwin Carnival each year and he used to sponsor the Calcutta night putting on food and drink for everyone, he always said he’d like to own a dog and Cooper’s his first so we’re off to a good start.
“He’s actually just started his own betting agency Southern Cross Bet and bought another pup out of the same bloodlines as Cooper, we’re pretty similar blokes so it’s good to share some success.”