Friday 23 June 2017

Eight things you need to know about the Willie Mullins/Michael O'Leary split

As they square up in the Gold Cup, we track the parting of ways between Willie Mullins and Michael O'Leary

Mullins with Michael O’Leary. Photo: Damien Eagers
Mullins with Michael O’Leary. Photo: Damien Eagers
American owner Rich Ricci at the festival yesterday. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward at Cheltenham

When did they first team up together?

Samain, Lovethehigherlaw and Sir Des Champs were sent to Mullins' Closutton yard around 2010, and all of them proved high-class horses.

What were the high points?

Gigginstown and Mullins enjoyed a good share of success at Cheltenham, as well as claiming a plethora of big races on this side of the Irish Sea. Sir Des Champs and Don Poli were both placed in a Gold Cup, both having won over hurdles and fences at Cheltenham.

When did the relationship end?

The alliance was severed on September 28 last when O'Leary took the racing world by surprise - removing his 60 horses from Mullins' yard and redistributing them among Gordon Elliott, Henry de Bromhead, Noel Meade, Mouse Morris and Joseph O'Brien.

The aggregate worth of this bloodstock was in the region of €10m.

Why did it end?

Mullins told O'Leary he was raising his training fees by 10pc, his first increase in a decade. Even before they had joined up in 2010, Gigginstown had struggled to come to an arrangement with Mullins, who reportedly would not accede to the operation's insistence on set fees - generally below what the trainer would charge.

So, it was down to money alone?

Yes, and no. Mullins is on record as saying that, after a stint as a young man learning his trade with leading flat trainer Jim Bolger, he determined that he could not work for anyone other than himself.

Unlike most owners, who are guided by the trainer's plan for their horse, Gigginstown prefers to have a much bigger input into where their horses should run. The operation has so many runners, it must make arrangements that do not necessarily suit all their trainers.

Neither O'Leary nor Mullins have admitted to this being an issue, but it must have been a source of frustration for the champion trainer.

What has it been like since the split?

On race days, it's not uncommon to see O'Leary or his brother Eddie (Gigginstown's racing manager) in conversation. However, one could read a bit into some statements to the press. Eddie O'Leary told this paper the ex-Mullins-trained Valseur Lido's jumping "had improved no end" since he joined de Bromhead.

At his yard's Cheltenham press launch, Mullins said that others gave out about the handicapper but he thought it was pointless; while this could be interpreted as a dig at O'Leary for his criticism of British handicapper Phil Smith over his treatment of their horses in the Grand National weights, the trainer was more likely just giving an honest response to a question.

How have things changed?

De Bromhead has done very well for Gigginstown while Elliott is odds-on to end Mullins' domination of the Irish jumps trainers championship - mainly due to the influx of horses he's got from Mullins.

Elliott won the Cheltenham Gold Cup for O'Leary with Don Cossack last year and the pair have landed a steady stream of big races this season.

Mullins has predictably suffered - not helped by a series of mishaps that have hit some of his top stars likes Vautour, Faugheen, Annie Power and Douvan - all owned by American London-based investment banker Rich Ricci.

Is it possible that Mullins could train for O'Leary again?

At the time of the split, both parties said it was possible they would come together in the future and O'Leary talked about how successful they had been as a team. With the passing of time, this seems less likely.

What happens next?

O'Leary and Elliott enjoyed a dream start to this week at the Festival, but Mullins hit back in style yesterday with four winners - spearheaded, ironically, by the success of the syndicate-owned Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase.

O'Leary was among the first to congratulate his ex- trainer, who later described the airline chief executive as "very gracious in defeat".

Today, Mullins bids for his first Gold Cup with likely favourite Djakadam, while the horse he formerly trained, Outlander, is the chief hope for the O'Leary-Elliott axis.

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Irish Independent

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