News of Allardyce losing the England job was tough to comprehend, but was the Gigginstown split from Mullins truly that unexpected?
Of the parting, Mullins told At The Races: “We're parting company - it's basically over fees, I imagine. I put up my fees for the first time in 10 years and Gigginstown chose not to pay them. That's it, we're just parting company. I'm not willing to try to maintain the standards I have (without putting the fees up), so that's the way it is.”
Ireland’s Champion Trainer continued his candid assessment by saying: “Everyone that comes into my yard is treated the same. I see enough people going to the wall in Ireland all the time. We've evolved our methods of training, which obviously costs a lot, and we're not prepared to sacrifice that. They've been very good to us over the years, they've bought some fantastic horses and there's a fantastic team of horses going to whoever is going to get them, I don't know where they are going to go.”
“It's only been in the last few hours this has come about. I wish them the best, it's the way it is, we move on. They'll be very hard horses to replace. Even with all the money in the world, lots of people try to buy horses like that, but sometimes they just happen. We've put together a fantastic team with Eddie O'Leary and ourselves but that's it. It's there now and the team is there for someone else to train.”
In the region of 60 horses will therefore be heading to pastures new, with the likelihood that Mullins’ major rival in Ireland, Gordon Elliott, will be the main beneficiary. There’s little doubt that Elliott training the Gold Cup winner for Gigginstown, would have made this type of decision easier for the O’Leary’s to take. Elliott is now proven at the highest level and O’Leary can be confident that such a switch will not be to the detriment of the horses involved.
And many of those horses are highly talented. With details yet to be confirmed, it does appear that Elliott will be getting Don Poli. He may have failed to win the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, but he did win the Grade 1 Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, and at the age of seven is still open to further improvement. With doubts remaining over the fitness of Don Cossack, the arrival of a replacement ‘Don’ will prove a huge tonic for Elliott and his team.
Several talented youngsters are also expected to head to the County Meath trainer. The sensational filly, Apple’s Jade, proved devastating at both Aintree and Punchestown before her summer break. Such was her level of performance that Mullins commented: “She has to be the best juvenile I’ve trained.” Another campaign over hurdles is likely, though she is bred for fences and certainly has the scope to excel over the larger obstacles.
Blow By Blow is another with the potential for stardom. He took the Grade 1 Bumper at the Punchestown Festival, beating the classy Moon Racer in the process. He looks sure to become a talented novice hurdler, before inevitably making his mark over fences. By successful Jumps sire Robin Des Champs, he’s out of a Roselier mare, which suggests he’ll be all the better for a trip.
Other outstanding types that Mullins is sure to miss include Grade 1 novice chaser Outlander, who fell at the Cheltenham Festival prior to solid performances at Fairyhouse and Punchestown. Valseur Lido is another that will be missed at Closutton. He was second to Vautour in the Ryanair Chase, on unsuitably quick ground, and was also a Grade 1 winner as a novice chaser.
Two other youngsters likely to make an impact when switched to fences are Bello Conti and Petit Mouchoir. Both were towards the top of pile in the novice hurdle division last winter, and Mullins would have been looking forward to sending them over the larger obstacles.
Gigginstown released an official statement on the matter to RTE Sport, which said: “As Gigginstown House Stud has been unable to reach agreement with Willie Mullins on an increase in training fees, we have agreed, with considerable regret, to move the Gigginstown horses to alternative trainers for the coming 2016/17 season.”
The statement continued: “Gigginstown wishes to sincerely thank Willie and all the team at Closutton for the many Grade One races we have won together over the past seven years. We hope that an agreement can be reached at some time in the future which will allow Willie to resume buying and training more graded winners for us. While we part at this time with regret, we wish Willie and all the team at Closutton continued success.”
Of course Mullins still has powerful owners onside, with the likes of the Andrea and Graham Wylie investing heavily, and Rich and Susannah Ricci’s ever increasing battalion of stars. Nevertheless, this news comes as a blow for the team at Closutton, and is sure to have a huge impact on the outcome of this season’s Irish Trainers’ Championship. There’s also added spice with the prospect of numerous winter confrontations between Mullins/Ricci and Elliott/Gigginstown horses.
I’m also of the opinion that power sharing under Mullins was becoming increasingly problematic for Michael O’Leary. Rich Ricci carries a lot of weight within the Closutton operation, and seems happy to leave much of the decision making to his trainer, whilst there were occasions when an undercurrent of friction was clearly visible between O’Leary and Mullins. Valseur Lido’s Cheltenham Festival target proved a prickly issue, with the trainer steadfast in his belief that the horse should be stepped-up in trip, yet a clash with Vautour proved inevitable with O’Leary’s refusal to bow to trainer pressure.
Gigginstown are very much the major player within the Elliott yard, and the trainer will be able to place their horses without taking into account the wishes of other powerful owners. Financial reasons may be cited as the cause of the split, but this divorce was always on the cards.