The jumps racing world has been left stunned after Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary announced that his Gigginstown House Stud will not be buying any new stock and will phase out its National Hunt team over the next five years.
Gigginstown House Stud is one of the biggest operations in the jumping world, with horses such as dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll and Cheltenham Gold Cup winners War Of Attrition and Don Cossack sporting the famous maroon and white silks.
The Mouse Morris trained War Of Attrition provided them with their first Cheltenham Festival winner back in 2006.
Since then they have notched another 25 more wins at the four-day spectacault, making O’Leary the second most successful owner in the history of the Cheltenham Festival behind fellow Irishman JP McManus.
O’Leary won the Cheltenham Gold Cup again in 2016 with the Gordon Elliott trained Don Cossack, but it was seven winners at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018 that saw him proclaim “When I die, this is the week I’ll remember.”
His “super seven winners” included Balko De Flos who landed the race he sponsors, the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase. After 15 years of trying, and lots of near misses, it was just reward for his continued sponsorship of the prestigious prize.
O’Leary, not surprisingly, landed the NetJets Leading Owner Award for the second successive year.
It was never envisaged at that time, or this, that he was about call time on such a successful operation.
However, nothing good last forever and O’Leary has now decided to do just that.
Family Comes First
A statement released by him said: “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 over the foreseeable future.
“I hope that by running down our string over an extended four or five year period it will give trainers ample time to replace our horses without disruption.
“We have lots of young stock to be allocated amongst our trainers over the coming weeks and each of our trainers will receive their usual allocation of young point to pointers.”
Amazing Year Capped by Tiger Roll Success
As well as having a massive team with his number one trainer Elliott, the renowned businessman has substantial numbers of horses with Noel Meade, Henry De Bromhead and Joseph O’Brien.
O’Leary, who lives at Gigginstown House Stud in County Westmeath, first owned horses on the Flat before becoming involved in jumps racing.
He once described his four-time Cheltenham Festival winner Tiger Roll, who this year became the first horse won land back-to-back successes in the Grand National at Aintree, as a “little rat of a thing”.
His brother Eddie, who has long acted as racing manager for Gigginstown 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.”
Lover of National Hunt Whose Priority Was Horse Welfare
I first met O’Leary at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival when staying in the nearby village of Prestbury. I was PR man for a major bookmakers at the time and he bought me a drink in a packed Plough Inn as we chatted how the day had gone.
It had been a mixed day for O’Leary, with one of his big hopes crashing out, but Weapon’s Amnesty had won the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle to provide some compensation.
Unlike many reports he was not abrupt or shy of putting his hand in his pocket. Indeed, he charming and it was clear to see his love National Hunt racing.
He put the welfare of the horses he owned before everything else and seeing them come home safely gave him as much satisfaction as a big race winner.
Whilst many having questioned whether the amount of runners Gigginstown have in races is a negative for the sport, I don’t agree and they are one of racing’s biggest supporters who will be sadly missed.
Their maroon and white colours have become synonymous with the Cheltenham Festival and I, for one, will be sad to see them no longer on show in five years time. It will be an end of an era.