I had no inkling that it was going to happen, but I must say I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn of Michael O’Leary’s decision to phase out his Gigginstown operation.
To me it was always going to happen. There was a degree of inevitability as I always felt the passion wasn’t there for the investment. They didn’t match up. For what he was spending, he had to be way more in love with National Hunt racing than he was. And that’s why it hasn’t shocked me in the same way it has many other people.
He is a businessman, and a very successful one at that, and he ran his National Hunt interest as a business. He drove a bargain with everyone, and horse racing doesn’t work as a business. You have to be in love with it.
Financially, what he was investing was massive and when you stand back and look at it, it’s clear it’s going to leave a huge hole: a huge hole in Gordon Elliott’s business, and in Noel Meade’s and Henry De Bromhead’s.
Obviously, he made a business decision to split with Willie Mullins over it, but Willie bounced back quickly and those still involved with Gigginstown will now have to do the same.
He probably had upwards of 200 horses, maybe 250, in training at about a grand a month. That’s about a quarter of a million in training fees alone every month.
He was a huge cog financially for a lot of people. Yes, they have said that they are phasing out over a few years but there are those people who will be affected immediately. Straight away it will affect the breeders and the pinhookers, who would have been selling horses at the sales.
Gigginstown would probably have bought 40 horses every year and straight away the people who were selling them will be affected by them not being in the market. If they were interested in a horse which somebody else was also interested in it drove the price up. And then there are the people who would be breaking and pre-training those horses.
I’m not sure if those trainers most closely associated with Gigginstown had an inkling, but, either way, they’ll have to act quickly to remodel their business to cope with it.
Gordon had a lot of horses, Noel and Henry to a lesser but still significant extent, while Mouse Morris had point to pointers and will have no more after these ones leave his yard to go out to other trainers.
It might open the market for new people to get involved but finding people to pay the sort of sums Gigginstown were willing to spend for National Hunt horses will not be easy. They were almost on a par with JP McManus — they were getting to that level. But there was a huge difference in one man’s passion and the others.
JP was in Killarney on Monday evening. I don’t remember Michael O’Leary going there. He may have been, and it’s not a criticism more an observation but, I feel, a reflection in the different levels of passion for our sport.
Michael wasn’t at the Dublin Racing Festival when Apple’s Jade won. He went to the rugby with his kids. That’s not knocking the man — if I had a choice, I might have done the same — but it tells a story. We mightn’t have wanted to see it, but the signs were probably there.
I rode winners for Michael and found him to be a very straight-forward person to ride for. He was brilliant for racing and there is no doubt he is a significant loss to the industry. There’s no doubt this is bad for Irish racing.
I may not have had a lot to do with Gigginstown, but a lot of people’s businesses were built around what they did. It may take three, four, five years to wash out on the racing front, but there is no doubt the impact will be felt straight away.
But everything goes in swings and roundabouts and in Ireland we’ve had it good for the last number of years, and Gigginstown were an important part of that success.
We’ve got to a stage where we were having the same number of winners in Cheltenham as the British. We were winning English Grand Nationals as though they were ten a penny — we even had the first three home in this year’s race.
That had to turn at some stage. Gigginstown were huge investors in Irish racing, and their decision could swing the balance back in favour of the British. But the fact is nobody is irreplaceable — I knew that before I retired — and the show will go on without Gigginstown.