The racing world was rocked yesterday after Michael O’Leary announced he will phase out his National Hunt team over the next five years.
O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud operation is one of the biggest in the jumping world, with horses such as dual National hero Tiger Roll and Cheltenham Gold Cup winners War Of Attrition and Don Cossack sporting the famous maroon and white silks.
However, O’Leary plans to reduce his interests over the coming years — with the decision not to buy any more young or store horses signalling the beginning of the end for his team, although his colours will be seen for some time yet.
The father of four cited a desire to spend more time with his children as the main cause for the bombshell decision and said he hoped a long goodbye will give his trainers sufficient time to replenish their stock.
The Ryanair boss said in a statement:
We wish to sincerely thank all our trainers and their teams for the enormous success we’ve enjoyed over the past decade, but as my children are growing into teenagers I am spending more and more of my time at their activities and I have less and less time for National Hunt racing, a situation that will continue for the foreseeable future.
“I hope that by running down our string over an extended four or five-year period it will give our trainers ample time to replace our horses without disruption.”
O’Leary, who lives at Gigginstown House Stud in County Westmeath, first owned horses on the Flat before becoming involved in jumps racing — with War Of Attrition’s Cheltenham success in 2006 firing the team into the headlines.
The Gigginstown team has included a wealth of stars since then - with Don Cossack adding another Gold Cup in 2016 and the Mouse Morris-trained-Rule The World landing a first Grand National the same year.
The likes of prolific mare Apple’s Jade, Road To Respect, and Samcro have been some recent headline-grabbers for the Gigginstown squad — with the 922 runners in the most recent Irish campaign a current indication as to the vast scale of the operation. O’Leary’s brother Eddie has long acted as racing manager for Gigginstown.
He added: “Michael’s children are now growing, and their activities are leaving less and less time for racing last season and for the foreseeable future.
“We’ve just had our best season ever in terms of winners, and it’s been an amazing year capped by Tiger Roll winning the Grand National for the second time last month.
We have lots of young stock to be allocated among our trainers over the coming weeks, and each of our trainers will receive their usual allocation of young point-to-pointers.
Gigginstown has more than 250 horses in training in Ireland, mainly split between Gordon Elliott, Henry de Bromhead, Noel Meade, and Joseph O’Brien.
Twice in the last three seasons, Elliott has come within touching distance of winning a first trainers’ championship before losing out to Willie Mullins in the final furlong at the Punchestown Festival.
As a consequence, he more than anyone will lament Gigginstown’s exit. But he was putting on a brave face yesterday.
“Gigginstown have been very, very good to me all through my career so far,” he said. “They’ve really supported me, and we’ve been lucky to have some great horses and great days together. It is a blow, obviously - they have plenty of horses with us.
“But there are a lot of other owners in the yard, and we’ve proven we can train - so hopefully some other owners will come in.”
Elliott added: “It’s not over yet. There’s still a few more years to go with them, and it’s just about pushing on and moving forward.”
Sadly for Elliott — and the game in general — Irish racing will soon have to move forward without one of its deepest investors.