Tuesday 21 May 2019

John Brennan: 'Michael O'Leary shocked the racing world with today's news - but his reason is understandable'

Michael O'Leary. Photo: Getty
Michael O'Leary. Photo: Getty

John Brennan

It has long been the stone in the shoe of a glorious era for Irish jump racing. What if one of the big owners just decided to pull the plug and stop sending top class horses to the country’s best trainers?

Well, in five years’ time, we will find out with Michael and Eddie O’Leary’s announcement today that they are going to wind down their Gigginstown House Stud operation over that time.

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From 2024 or maybe 2025, we will no longer see the famous Maroon colours with the White star on our racecourses. By those years, trainers like Gordon Elliott, Henry de Bromhead and Noel Meade will no longer benefit from the patronage of an organisation that, until today, thought nothing of spending thousands of pounds, indeed hundreds of thousands of pounds, on a single beast.

Those who produce store horses, and who bring on young point-to-point horses, will no longer be able to rely on Gigginstown to pay up the serious money that they have over the last two decades of young talent. It will undoubtedly hurt the grassroots of Ireland’s jumping game.

By winding it all down gradually, the O’Leary’s are still going to get the best years out of young they own - horses like Samcro, Delta Work, Battleoverdoyen, Commander of Fleet and Apple’s Jade and others will continue to seek success at the highest level.

And, of course, in 2020 they will still send their superstar, Tiger Roll, on the trail of a third successive Grand National next season, as well as a fifth career win at the Cheltenham Festival.

Why now? The reason given is the very understandable one that Michael’s children are about to become teenagers and he will be spending time on their activities rather than going horse racing each weekend.

But might there be other thoughts in the background? Could Gigginstown have decided that, after three Aintree Grand Nationals and two Cheltenham Gold Cup triumphs, and maybe more of those and other big races to come in the five years of future action, that there is no more to win?

Was O’Leary cheesed off at the lack of success at Cheltenham this year where Tiger Roll was his sole winner? Michael put an awful of lot of money into the sport over the last few years to notch just a solitary victory out of 28 races at the sport’s Olympics.

Remember too that jump racing is not like the flat, where a male horse that wins big races such as the Derby or the Arc will have a fruitful, and lucrative, career ahead of him as a stallion for his owners.

Jump horses are gelded and have no value after they stop racing, unless you breed from the occasional successful mare such as Apple’s Jade.

It’s not the first time the O’Leary’s have shocked Irish racing with a move no one saw coming. In September 2016, it was only top trainer Willie Mullins who suffered when Gigginstown removed all their horses from Mullins in a dispute over training fees.

Mullins shrugged that setback off and has won three Irish Trainers’ Championships since. The little man and woman, at the bottom of Irish racing’s pyramid, may not find this announcement so easy to absorb.

It will start to hurt almost immediately as they seek to sell their promising young horses this summer. No longer will top agent Mags O’Toole nod her head at the Sales to put in a bid on a good horse on Gigginstown’s behalf. Times are changing.

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