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Turf Club must set the ground rules


Devils Bride. Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Devils Bride. Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Devils Bride. Picture: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

MICHAEL O'LEARY is no stranger to making headlines but usually when it comes to racing, he and his Gigginstown House banner have been taking up the column inches for all the right reasons.

For some time, though, his decision to declare multiple horses for races has attracted some attention as in most instances it leads to non-runners, thus leaving it hard for punters to draw up a realistic view of the race when they don't know what is going to run or not and obviously it's hard for bookmakers to price them up, as well as the frustration of it all.

Keith Donoghue made his feelings clear on the situation after he was twice declared on Gigginstown horses in Graded races but ended up not riding them. As Bryan Cooper's horses didn't run, he was allowed to switch as Cooper is seen as Gigginstown's second jockey.

The ongoing matter came to a head in Cork when Davy Russell was the subject of a request that he would switch from one Gigginstown horse to another, as he's their retained rider, and his intended mount, which was declared, didn't run.

The Cork stewards allowed the change but referred the matter to the Turf Club who said that they would also be looking into O'Leary's number of non-runners.

But just as it is an unenviable task in taking on the Turf Club, there are many that would vouch for how difficult it is to be at loggerheads with Michael O'Leary.

The champion owner claims that there is no Turf Club inquiry, however, and in no uncertain terms he has said this week that he will continue his policy of multiple declarations, pointing at the fact that declaring over 48 hours before big races on Sundays could lead to a ground change that may suit some of his runners and not suit others.

In the Cork case, it looked like the stewards were making a big thing out of nothing. Imagine JP McManus declaring two horses in a race over here and AP McCoy's mount not running. Of course, he'd be allowed switch to the other. Or Ballydoyle being in the same situation with Joseph O'Brien.

Last week at Fairyhouse there was a change of going from declaration time the morning before to the day of the race, and again during racing, yet when O'Leary and Willie Mullins withdrew Devils Bride due to that reason, Mullins was fined and the horse was banned for running for two days.

The Turf Club's own rules state that horses are entitled to be withdrawn due to a change of ground and the two-day ban was solely to prevent the horse running the following afternoon at Thurles – on ground he would have liked.

Because of the ban, the horse was then forced to run in a much higher grade of race at Navan on Sunday and he was subsequently pulled up.

O'Leary said if they don't win their case regarding the appeal of the Fairyhouse decision that he will take it to the High Court but with the rules being there in black and white as they are, it would be a long price that he'll lose his appeal.

Indeed, the Ryanair supremo also stated "whatever they want us to do, we will do" as regards making Gigginstown's policy for multiple declarations clearer, such as declare on the basis of ground, but the Turf Club informed him there would be "no need," he said.

There would seem very little wrong-doing going on here, only that the man wants to make sure he is represented in all the big races and because he has so many horses, he wants to make sure they all run on the ground they want rather than running them for the sake of it, which he claims can cause injury.

It's a tricky one and it's hard to know the solution if the Turf Club have already said that they don't need to meet his brother and racing manager Eddie and if they don't want him to declare on the basis of the ground.

It's not one that's going to go away, that's for sure.