Michael O'Leary

IT IS almost 18 years exactly since Mick O’Leary landed his first significant race as an owner, when the David Wachman (John Magnier’s son-in-law) trained Tuco won the Goffs Land Rover Bumper at Fairyhouse and since then O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud has scooped almost every race worth winning over jumps, even some, such as the Aintree Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup on multiple occasions.

It is this reason – O’Leary has literally nothing left to win – that racing insiders are suggesting is the real catalyst for O’Leary slow-motion pull out from racing, rather than the politician’s answer of ‘wanting to spend more time with his family’.

A more likely reason is that O’Leary has got tired sick of writing cheques for an operation that has, in recent years, become far too bloated. Ireland’s champion owner in Ireland for the last five years, Gigginstown’s prize money haul last season in Ireland and Britain amounted to €5 million. With an estimated 300-plus horses in training that prize money figure wouldn’t even cover the training fees, despite O’Leary’s publicly flouted parsimony.

Factor in also that it would have cost O’Leary north of €10 million to accumulate such a squad of horses and it is clear that, despite his enormous wealth, the value for money aspect of Micko’s hobby no longer holds up, especially now that the thrill of the chase has been dampened by repeat success.

Moreover, let’s not forget that O’Leary is extremely results driven as any of his current and former trainers can attest to. If it wasn’t for the unique exploits of Tiger Roll last season, Gigginstown would not have had a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. A tame finish to the season followed at Punchestown, where O’Leary only welcomed two winners from over 40 runners – simply not good enough for a man for whom success at the big meetings has been what the multi-million euro investment has been all about.

While his planned exit over a five-year period gives his trainers plenty of breathing space, it is the sales companies, such as Tattersalls Ireland and Goffs, that will be the first to feel the effect of O’Leary’s absence when the big sales of young national hunt horses take place next month.

Gigginstown could easily have spent €1m at each sale and while O’Leary’s exit leaves a gap for other aspiring owners, it is unlikely a gap this big will be filled for some time.