Irresistible force meets immovable object and the outcome is good for Irish racing
Published 29/09/2016 | 02:30
It is a staggering indication of Willie Mullins' resources that he can surrender 60 horses yet believe no staff will be let go.
Objecting to a 10pc training fee rise - a revision all other owners apparently agreed to - emphasises the ruthlessness of Michael O'Leary. Ryanair have lightened up with age and are now a nicer airline but the businessman who once opened up a corner shop on Christmas Day and trebled the price of batteries has not abandoned his world view wholly. It is a staggering development, albeit one which will not shock all in racing. Here we have the champion owner and trainer parting ways. There is an element of the irresistible force and the immovable object about it all.
Mullins is exceptionally shrewd and a genius, too. He is also his own man. He has become the utterly dominant figure in racing and can probably stay there even without the five dozen horses that scattered around the country yesterday.
Of late, he decided that he would put up his training fees - which are understandably far higher than what the average jumps handler would charge - by 10pc. This, he said, was down to the increased cost of such things as food and bedding; maintaining his hugely influential gallops; and being able to keep the staff he wanted.
Gigginstown might argue that its other main client, Gordon Elliott, is appreciably cheaper. It took some time for the operation to agree to join Mullins back in 2010 and, it seems, old differences may have resurfaced.
Michael and his brother Eddie are formidable operators. Eddie is the main man in effect, the go-to brother at the races who picks the horses to buy. He gave no apologies this summer for ditching trainers Sandra Hughes and Tony Martin as allies: it was down to results.
Gigginstown confront racing in a no-nonsense way. Investment, allied to wise judgement, has ensured major success, with a second Gold Cup, an Aintree National and an Irish National plundered this year. Though reportedly intransigent when it comes to training fees, they are critical to Irish racing. This will threaten Mullins' domination, with main rival Elliott the primary benefactor: he will get around 20 horses. Ultimately, with four other trainers benefitting, this is good for competition in Irish racing. However, Mullins said he could sleep easily last night.
Michael O'Leary has long said that Ryanair is his business, racing his hobby. Yesterday proved that years, a wife and children may have softened him - but he has never lost sight of deference to the bottom line. He'll have slept easily too.