Michael O’Leary, the owner of Giggsinstown Stud, made an incredible announcement this week. His Gigginstown operation will wind down over the next five years as the O’Leary’s bid farewell to the racing world. It is a bombshell of epic proportions. Not least because of its financial implications on the racing world.
O’Leary plans to phase out his operation over the next five years. And he has advised that he will no longer be buying any new horses at the upcoming sales. The reason, he says, is that his children are getting older and he has less time to go racing.
“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 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,” O’Leary said.
Dominating National Hunt racing over the last decade, his team were crowned champion owners for a seventh time in Ireland earlier this month. Along with JP McManus and Rich Ricci, Gigginstown is one of the three biggest owners in the country. The notion that his withdrawal from the sport will incur little disruption is almost laughable.
With hundreds of horses across a number of trainers, its impacts will be huge. From the staff that those trainers employ to the local businesses that supply them, it pulls the carpet from under the local racing economy in a lot of rural areas in Ireland. In fact, it has been estimated that Gigginstown contributes more than €10 million to the industry annually.
But his racing strategy over the years has ruffled a lot of feathers. His policy of block entries in most of the valuable races has left little room for anybody else. Often it is quantity over quality. It also ensures that the handicap rating of his horses keeps increasing despite the fact that they are essentially running against each other. With higher handicapped horses, he can enter better races and by block entering them, by default, can win a lot of them. Which is also why Gigginstown earnings topped €4 million last season.
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That isn’t to say that all Gigginstown horses fall into that category. Tiger Roll didn’t win two back-to-back Grand Nationals because of his rating. But conversely, they entered a record 12 runners in the Irish Grand National, dominating the field of 30 runners. They still didn’t win it, in fact, Willie Mullins took home the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finishers. In total only five of their entries finished the race. It’s a numbers game and one that O’Leary wants to stop playing.
So what now for the horses that run in the famous maroon colours?
“Each and every one of those horses will remain in the Gigginstown colours for the entirety of their career. So hopefully, we can have many more great days to look forward to.” Eddie O’Leary added.
While they may have many great days ahead of them, I suspect that many trainers will be enduring sleepless nights. It is not a good thing for the industry. So few others have the ability to employ such a free-spending strategy which keeps the whole train running. However, Willie Mullins survived his 2016 Gigginstown cull and, with some resilience, so will everybody else who has been left standing in O’Leary’s dust.