Michael O'Leary plays down split with Willie Mullins after Lexus 1-2

Teenager Jack Kennedy claims first Grade One win as Djakadam finishes third

In a reasonable world the tale of 17-year-old jockey Jack Kennedy winning his 100th race by landing a first Grade One prize would dominate any fallout from Outlander's surprise Lexus Chase success at Leopardstown on Wednesday.

However reason's links to racing have always been tenuous so Kennedy's breakthrough victory in the €150,000 feature will inevitably be viewed through the prism of the September schism between Outlander's owner Michael O'Leary and his former trainer, Willie Mullins.

The tale of the Ryanair boss removing his 60 Gigginstown Stud horses from Mullins has been the racing story of 2016 and since it was about two powerful and famous men engaged in a battle of wills it is all too recognisable to all too many.

So as the young Kerry rider celebrated, most everyone else was coming to terms with the resonance of how Mullins’s 5-4 favourite Djakadam had to settle for third, surrounded by a trio of O’Leary-owned runners that used to be his stable companions.


Mullins has otherwise dominated the Christmas action to an unprecedented degree but he would be less than human not to have been stung watching his big-race favourite edged out by both Outlander and last year's winner Don Poli with Valseur Lido back in fourth.

It was a Lexus three-in-a-row for O'Leary, a 1-2 for Mullins's big rival, Gordon Elliott, and if the result didn't provoke too many waves in ante-post betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, there was no shortage of other reverberations among the racing hierarchy for anyone to be too bothered.

“People write this up like there’s been a death in the family. But it’s very simple; Willie has a business to run and I’ve a hobby to run. That’s it,” O’Leary chided a media pack ravenous for some heat-of-the-moment one-upmanship three months after that renowned dispute over training fees.

Except of course the ramifications of such a dispute fascinate too many people, and not just in terms of plain old nosiness, for it to be that simple, so some of O’Leary’s other comments are likely to be carefully parsed for significance.

A genius

“Willie is a gentleman and a genius and I’m sorry he doesn’t have horses for me but hopefully he will again. The tragedy is that we’re weaker without Willie although the way he’s going this week I don’t know if he’s weaker without us.

“But it is only business. I don’t mind spending a lot of money on horses but I run a low-cost airline and I try to keep my costs down,” he added.

Earlier in the day, Mullins had outlined some of his own thinking on the matter when explaining why his fortunes have suddenly surged this Christmas after Elliott’s dominance for much of the first half of the season.

“The dry autumn is the only reason I can think of – and the loss of half the yard probably!” he joked.  “But everybody’s got to do what they’ve got to do.”

What Kennedy’s got to do it seems is keep doing what he’s doing. The former pony race champion burst on the scene last season and if injury put a stop to his championship leading gallop earlier this season then Outlander’s Lexus success is a perfect boost.

“It’s brilliant to get it [first Grade One] for Gordon and for the O’Leary’s,” he said with pitch-perfect diplomacy, something Elliott concedes isn’t always his own strong point.

If Noble Endeavor's Paddy Power success on Tuesday eased the pain of Mullins's dominance then the second most lucrative pot of the Christmas action will have been further balm in his attempts to stay ahead in the trainer's championship.

It also promises plenty for the future.

Elliott described Don Poli’s dismal initial run for him at Down Royal as “embarrassing” but the former dual-Cheltenham festival winner was much more like his old self here and will now be targeted at the Aintree Grand National.

Prior to that he is likely to join Outlander back at Leopardstown for the Irish Gold Cup where a more definite shape to Ireland's Cheltenham challenge to Thistlecrack & Co in March could emerge.

“I thought Valseur Lido was our No.1 Gold Cup horse but it looked like he didn’t stay as well as the others. The standard of this year’s Gold Cup looks very high so we will be throwing plenty at it,” O’Leary said.

As Willie Mullins found out to his cost, when it comes to Gold Cup contenders the Ryanair boss has plenty to throw.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column