No U-Turn for Tiger owner O’Leary

Tiger Roll Grand National 2018

Jockey Davy Russell jumps the last fence on Tiger Roll on his way to winning the Grand National horse race on the final day of the Grand National Festival at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, northern England on April 14, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS @SCANPIX

The countdown until Tiger Roll bids for immortality at Aintree in the Grand National is well underway but so, too, are the racing days of Gigginstown House Stud backer Michael O’Leary.

The Ryanair boss announced last year that his racing portfolio would be ‘running down’ in the coming years before, eventually, the maroon and white silks of Tiger Roll (and so many more) disappear from the racecourse completely.

Gigginstown full of festive cheer

In between times O’Leary has mooted not allowing Tiger Roll to bid for three Aintree wins, a stance which has since softened dramatically on.

O’Leary enjoyed a stellar Christmas with his horses in Ireland and can look forward to the spring with optimism as such.

The likes of Apple’s Jade and Delta Work were Grade 1 scorers at Leopardstown’s big Winter Festival.

The former roared back to form over three-miles, prompting speculation she’ll target the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Delta Work, amongst the standout novice chasers of last season, had reappeared with a flat showing at Down Royal in November but he firmly put that behind him as he got up late to mug Monalee in the Savills Chase; rubber-stamping his Gold Cup credentials in the process.

It was a rewarding Christmas for Gigginstown, of that there can be no doubt.

Tiger’s bid for immortality looms closer

For all that, the name on every racing fans lips this spring will continue to be Tiger Roll.

Last April, Elliott’s superstar chaser became the first back-to back Grand National winner since the legendary Red Rum in 1974.

Ginger McCain’s racing great would win again three years later and he stands alone as the only three-time winner of this great race.

Tiger Roll will bid for a brand new page in the sport’s history therefore when he goes for ‘three-in-a-row’ come April 4.

He defied the nay-sayers last year and justified 4-1 favouritism in winning his second Aintree marathon. Tiger Roll is the poster boy of jumps racing now. O’Leary has never had a star shining so bright; but there’s no temptation to prompt a U-turn.

O’Leary remains steadfast in ‘wind down’ plan

Following his Festive successes, the Gigginstown supremo was pushed on whether or not big-race glory might give him some second thoughts or a willingness to reconsider his position.

O’Leary paid tribute to his horses, as well as trainer Gordon Elliott and rider Jack Kennedy – the pair responsible for the wins of Apple’s Jade and Delta Work.

O’Leary though is sticking to his exit strategy at this point, with a four to five year time span in place.

“We’ve had a fantastic run,” O’Leary told RTE Sport at Leopardstown.

“We’ve been very fortunate. Eddie [O’Leary, racing manager] buys brilliant horses. We’ve been very fortunate with the trainers we’ve had.

“Gordon is doing a marvellous job. He has a great stable of horses now.”

Trainers have time to adjust

The successful businessman still peeking out from within, O’Leary has given the leading trainers of Gigginstown horses the benefit of time to plan for succession.

“I have bumper horses now that will become maiden hurdlers and then novice chasers, so it’ll be four or five years before they can work their way through the system. But next year, I’ll have no bumper horses and not that many maiden hurdlers, so the numbers will work themselves out pretty quickly,” he added.

“But the good thing is that Gordon [Elliott] and Henry [de Bromhead] have enough time to replace our horses with other horses. It’s not a sudden decision and we’ll manage it over a period of time and hopefully with the minimum disruption.”

Who knows, should Tiger Roll write his name still further into the folklore of Aintree, it could convince O’Leary he too has a future in the sport of kings.

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