Sunday 19 May 2019

A loss of money and loss of interest - why Michael O'Leary is stepping away from racing

Michael O’Leary (right).
Michael O’Leary (right).
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

A LOSS of money and loss of interest are the two chief reasons behind Michael O’Leary’s shock decision to gradually pull the plug on his racing ownership over the next “four or five years”.

The powerful Gigginstown House Stud operation is believed to cost approximately €4m per year to run and, despite its unprecedented success, prize money doesn’t cover their extensive outlay.

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The shock announcement the Ryanair chief is withdrawing from the sport of kings left the racing community stunned. He cited family reasons, wanting to spend more time with his four children as the grow up, but even close allies were not told until this week.

O’Leary’s famous maroon and white racing silks will soon be a thing of the past.

Rugby may garner more of his attention and the former Clongowes student may opt to mix up his business interests.

O’Leary will not purchase any store horses or younger horses in the coming years.

That means the man who had 225 horses grace the race track for six different trainers last season will keep his horses in training for a maximum of five years before walking away from the sport.

Sources close to the business tycoon indicate he has fallen out of love with the sport. The 58-year-old was conspicuously absent from some major Irish meetings this season.

O’Leary opted to go to the Aviva Stadium to watch Ireland play England in rugby’s Six Nations rather than attend Leopardstown to see his wonder mare Apple’s Jade claim the Irish Champion Hurdle.

O’Leary always promised he would get out if he ever lost the passion and there was no indication of any fallout as O’Leary was crowned champion Irish jumps owner for a seventh time – his fifth title in succession – at the recent Punchestown Festival.

Last month he enjoyed one of his biggest triumphs when the Gordon Elliott-trained Tiger Roll made history to complete back-to-back wins in the Aintree Grand National.

That’s makes it all the more surprising and the Mullingar resident intends to replace the void of racing by spending more time with his wife Anita and their four children.

O’Leary said: "As my children are growing into teenagers I am spending more and more of my time at their activities and I have less time for National Hunt racing. That’s a situation that will continue for the foreseeable future."

He has become one of racing’s most influential figures with a huge string of horses rivalled only by JP McManus and his departure has seismic implications for the Irish equine industry.

Meath trainer Elliott, who provided him with his second Gold Cup triumph in 2016 through Don Cossack and trains around 100 of his horses, will be hit hard while Henry de Bromhead, Noel Meade and Joseph O’Brien will be similarly affected.

Elliott said: "Gigginstown have been very, very good to me all through my career so far. It is a blow, obviously – they have plenty of horses with us. But there are a lot of other owners in the yard."

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