Gigginstown Stud appeal provisionally scheduled for next Monday
High profile owner Michael O’Leary threatens to take Turf Club to High Court if appeal isn’t successful
Michael O’Leary and his wife Anita celebrate Sir Des Champs’s victory in last April’s Punchestown Gold Cup Chase with jockey Davy Russell.
A Turf Club hearing into Michael O’Leary’s appeal against a two-day suspension of one of his horses has been provisionally scheduled for next Monday and is set to take place against a backdrop of the Ryanair boss’s dramatic threat to take Irish racing’s regulatory body to the High Court if his appeal isn’t successful.
An issue over O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud operation’s policy of multiple declarations, often followed by non-runners on racedays, and a subsequent shuffling of jockey arrangements, has escalated hugely with the high-profile owner clearly unhappy with how the Fairyhouse stewards dealt with his horse, Devil’s Bride, last Wednesday.
Track officials decided to impose a €200 fine on Devils Bride’s trainer Willie Mullins, and suspended the horse from racing for two days, resulting in a missed engagement at Thurles the following day, as they felt the reason for the horse’s withdrawal – a change in ground conditions – was not acceptable due to an insufficient change in the going.
The issue of Gigginstown’s policy of multiple declarations has been a controversial one in Irish racing for much of 2013 and the switch of O’Leary’s retained rider Davy Russell to another Gigginstown runner, after his originally scheduled mount, Road To Riches, was a non-runner at Cork over a fortnight ago, led to the matter being referred to Turf Club HQ.
The Turf Club’s chief executive, Denis Egan, has examined that case and reported yesterday that no rules were broken at Cork and the matter is now closed.
However, the case of Devils Bride, whose two-day suspension actually finished before he ran at Navan on Sunday, has clearly become a tipping point for O’Leary, who has been quoted as saying he will take the Turf Club to the High Court if they don’t overturn the penalty. He also emphasised he intends to continue with a policy of multiple declarations.
“This is going to continue. I’m going to declare two or three horses for the big races on Sundays this season knowing that one or the other will not run because the ground will eventually not suit one of them,” he said. “Ground is the key factor and we’re being asked to declare on a Friday morning for big races on Sunday afternoons.”
O’Leary added: “You would swear we were some bunch of spivs running around organising betting coups. We don’t punt our horses. I have no interest in that. This is my hobby and I want to make three things very clear: there’s no Turf Club investigation; we’ve broken no rules; and we’re appealing the decision of the Fairyhouse stewards and intend to have it overturned. If we don’t get it overturned at the Turf Club, we’ll go to the High Court.”
That puts one of Ireland’s best-known public figures on a potential collision course with Irish racing’s regulatory body. Denis Egan said yesterday he was constrained in what he could say ahead of any appeal but said the High Court is always an option for anyone who wants to pursue such a course of action.
O’Leary is currently Ireland’s champion National Hunt owner, having won the title for a second time last May. He is one of the biggest investors in Irish jump racing with horses in almost all the leading stables in the country.
The Gigginstown Stud operation is set to be heavily represented in this Sunday’s triple-Grade One ‘Premier Jump Racing’ meeting at Fairyhouse, the biggest pre-Christmas meeting in Ireland, with over 20 per cent of the entries ahead of today’s important forfeit stage owned by O’Leary.
They include Rule The World in the €80,000 Bar One Racing Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, a race for which Jezki is a likely favourite with trainer Jessica Harrington reporting yesterday: “The plan is to run him in the Hatton’s Grace all being well. He seems in great form and I’ve been happy with him.”
Noel Meade has indicated the O’Leary-owned Very Wood could take on his Navan conqueror Minella Foru in the €75,000 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle while Road To Riches and Don Cossack are set to fly the Gigginstown flag in the Drinmore Novice Chase.
The latter’s trainer Gordon Elliott said yesterday: “I will talk to Eddie (O’Leary) and Michael (O’Leary) later this week and he might go for The Drinmore. He ran a good race the last day. He was beaten a half a length by a Grade One winner and we were both happy and disappointed. He’s a fine big horse and jumping fences looks his game.”