The long goodbye. Gigginstown have announced plans to scale back their racing interests. So it’s farewell to my favourite owner. Probably my favourite figure in public life, truth be told.
Michael O’Leary is a tonic. An antidote to the navel gazing of modern life. He may not get misty-eyed about horses. To see him bound down off the stands in Punchestown on a rainy Tuesday in October is to see a man who loves the game in his own way.
That way may seem ruthless. He’s dispensed with plenty of trainers, and jockeys. It’s probably tricky for a hard nosed businessman to soften his approach outside the boardroom.
He still paid plenty for his hobby. Gigginstown have earned a little over 20 million in prize money over the last four seasons. At an optimistic guesstimate of a 40% R.O.I, he’s cutting a cheque for six million a year. Not much in relative terms I suppose. He’s a billionaire. That money has gone a long way to bolstering the Irish NH economy though.
He’s been very good for fans of the game in Ireland. Young horses who might otherwise have plied their trade in the UK raced here instead. His belief that they’re all going to get injured anyway meant his horses generally ran plenty of times. To be able to pop down the road to see the next big thing from the point to point field was a privilege.
His philosophy meant that his horses often ran against one another. On occasion he provided the entire field. Punters had no concerns that his horses would run on their merits. A rare feat, in a world where conspiracy theories are regularly weaved from navel fluff.
We can only hope that another owner picks up the slack. A cursory glance at the prize money table will tell you that owner need not necessarily be based in Ireland. Our trainers and jockeys are a big draw. Particularly when you have ready access to a reliable helicopter.
What it means for the bloodstock industry is harder to call. Obviously the loss of the biggest fish in the pond will be felt. How much though? I was in Cheltenham last November when a mare, a mare, went for £320,000. Gigginstown didn’t buy her. Nicky Henderson paid £400,000 for another mare in March. Paul Nicholls paid £370,000 for a horse at the same sale. That auction saw 14 six figure sales.
There’s an old maxim about something being worth whatever two fools are willing to pay for it. I’ve never been a huge fan of it. These people aren’t fools, but they knew already what the Notorious B.I.G put in verse. ‘Mo money, mo problems’. If you’ve more money that you can spend, what do you buy?
Thankfully for us fans, horses are near the top of that shopping list.
Alan Potts was the last major owner to make a similar announcement. Granted he wasn’t in O’Leary’s league. Despite Potts’ absence, the sales prices just kept on climbing. There are enough of these people to mean the Gigginstown loss will likely have minimal impact. We may have to travel across the water to see the horses in action though.
Finally, four years is a long time. I respect O’Leary’s decisive qualities. Still, he may find his children’s activities aren’t that interesting. Even he wouldn’t say it to them of course. A rethink wouldn’t be a massive price.