Even by Michael O’Leary’s standards, Tuesday’s announcement that he would be phasing out of racehorse ownership was right up there in terms of shock value.
Quite what impact it will have on the racehorse industry is harder to quantify.
There are some who argue that Gigginstown House Stud’s departure might be beneficial, given their scale and dominance, as champion owner in Ireland in the last five seasons and seven times in all.
But the 225 individual horses running last year provided significant employment, training fees and wages to staff.
On their journey, they might have encountered specialists such as Dot Love and Ciarán Murphy that broke and pre-trained many of them, Pat Doyle who educated plenty through point-to-pointing, the point-to-point speculators, pinhookers and breeders that sold them.
They will continue to race whatever horses they have and the likes of Tiger Roll, Apple’s Jade and Samcro could well add to Gigginstown’s 91 Grade Ones, 27 Cheltenham Festival victories and three Aintree Grand Nationals accumulated over the years.
Tipperary trainer Denis Hogan believes that O’Leary and his brother Eddie have done the industry a service by providing plenty of notice and hails their influence on the industry.
“They’ve brought the game up two notches,” Hogan remarks. “A lot of them horses would have ended up trained in England only for them. There are plenty of big owners here but there’s a lot of them in the UK too. They raised the game.
“You might imagine it’s going to be easier to get into the likes of the Irish National with them gone, but you’ve seen it over the years. People come and people go. New faces come into the game and old faces come back.”
There have been some suggestions that more established middle-tier owners might be more inclined to increase their interests once more, if stock becomes a little more affordable.
Although a young progressive dual-purpose trainer who has finished eighth in the NH table the last two campaigns, Hogan says that removing Gigginstown as a competitor for buying horses will have little impact on him personally.
“They’re in a fairly elite group in terms of big spends so those horses won’t be available at my budget, though Eddie O’Leary has done great work. They don’t always buy top lots. You look at some of the horses he bought for 30, 40 and 50 thousand that have done well.
“There are maiden hurdles in the winter we wouldn’t even think about targeting because you’d know they’d have four or five for it, so that might open up a door, but there’s lots of powerful owners out there. The biggest effect will be on the sales.”
Peter Nolan is about to find out just how much that effect will be. A very successful trader, the Wexford man’s ability to spot future winners at foal and yearling level, and produce it for the three-year-old store sales, is well established.
He will have 64 horses for the two flagship store sales, the Goffs Land Rover Sale on June 11-12 and the Derby Sale at Tattersalls a fortnight later. He is matter of fact about the immediate future.
“It will impact with the three-year-olds at the two premier sales, probably this year and next year, until the market sorts itself out again,” says Nolan.
“That’s where Gigginstown would be most active. We won’t know until that comes and it’s coming very quick on us, and on agents to source new buyers.
“I’d say Gigginstown bought between 40 and 50 three-year-olds last year. Some owners will say it will give more of them a chance but it will definitely be affecting the market for the better horse at the minute.
“This time of the year, we’re getting the three-year-olds ready. Two years before a sale I might say, ‘He’s a real Gigginstown type of horse’, but I have to go and find the next Gigginstown now.”
He recalls the late Alan Potts coming out of nowhere to spend vast sums of money at the sales in the last decade and the portents of doom when JP McManus scaled back on his acquisition of three-year-olds.
New money is found and old money returns.
“But you’re not going to get someone at Gigginstown’s level,” he reasons.
If agents will be scampering around looking to persuade existing clients to delve deeper into their pockets, or persuade new ones that owning 20 jump horses would be more fun than a yacht or a fleet of cars, Gordon Elliott, Henry de Bromhead, Noel Meade and Joseph O’Brien have a little more room to breathe as they prepare for replacing the Gigginstown stock.
Hogan doesn’t see them having too many problems, even if Elliott ran 107 horses for O’Leary last season.
“People in general tell me, ‘Get out there and meet all these people and sell horses’. I found, since I started training, the only way I ever get horses was on results. If we have a string of winners together, or a big winner, the phone’ll be busy. If you don’t have them, the phone will be quiet. It’s as simple as that.”
One area he feels people have missed in terms of how Gigginstown has benefited the industry is in the opportunities to jockeys.
A jockey himself still – he only turns 32 next month – Hogan notes that quite apart from the boost the O’Learys have provided to the careers of Davy Russell, Rachael Blackmore and Jack Kennedy, the likes of his close friend Mark Enright, David Mullins, JJ Slevin and Lisa O’Neill have enjoyed big-race success on Gigginstown charges.
“There’s a huge spin-off.”
The market will recover, Nolan maintains, but he has no patience for anyone expressing a point of view that the industry will be better for Michael O’Leary putting his wallet away.
“I think it’s very wrong for people to say it’s good for the game,” Nolan asserts. “I can’t see it. You lose somebody with 230 horses. How can it be good for the game? Take it out of any market, any business.
“You’re taking out the leading owner for the last five years, and people are telling you it’s not going to be a problem?
“I’d like him to come and sort my books then.”
Sunday Indo Sport