Talking Horses: in defence of the Gigginstown racing operation

Chris Cook
The Guardian

There was a certain amount of criticism by Talking Horses regulars of the O’Leary brothers, Michael and Eddie, when I raised the topic of Tiger Roll’s participation in the Grand National in this space last week. I can see the subject boiling up again on Tuesday, when the weights for the Aintree race are published and we find out what the O’Learys think about it.

Evidently, there is a deal of resentment about the Gigginstown team applying pressure to the handicapper through occasional public announcements that their great little horse might not actually turn up in April. Some appear to see the O’Leary influence over racing as essentially baleful and they seem sanguine about Michael’s stated intention to withdraw, eventually.

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I don’t feel that way and this seems a good time to say so. For one thing, I admire his taste in horses, and what fan of steeplechasing could not? Over the past 15 years, he has invested unfathomable sums in pursuit of horses that were never going to be anything but three-mile steeplechasers, animals that never showed a yard of pace in their lives.

In many cases, he must have been fully aware that he would be paying for the bed and board of those horses for years before he could expect much of a return in the way of prize money. Is the world full of such owners? It is not. The trend has been firmly the other way, towards speed and immediate action.

I like that Gigginstown uses several trainers and that the O’Learys are perfectly at ease with their horses competing against each other. The natural fear from a punter’s perspective, when an owner has multiple runners, is that there is a preferred outcome which has been somehow conveyed to the jockeys, but I get no flavour of that from Gigginstown. On the contrary, the impression given is that they are sometimes as curious about the outcome as the rest of us onlookers.

Perhaps most important, bearing in mind racing’s long-term place in the world, has been the support for female jockeys shown by the O’Learys. Katie Walsh was wearing the maroon and white when she won her first Grade One and also when she landed the Irish National aboard Thunder And Roses. Gigginstown provided the previously unsung Lisa O’Neill with back-to-back wins in the Kerry National and a Cheltenham Festival success in 2017.

And let’s not forget it was on the recommendation of Eddie that Rachael Blackmore was taken on as first jockey to Henry de Bromhead, the role which has allowed the 30-year-old to flourish somewhat later than most top-class jockeys. Female success in jump racing has become so common, it is sometimes hard to remember it was a real rarity just a few years ago. If all big-time owners were as willing to employ women jockeys as the Gigginstown operation has been, we would have got here sooner.

Wednesday’s best bets

Ludlow provides the jump racing and I hope to see Drinks Interval (2.45) score, now that Colin Tizzard’s charge returns to hurdles for a mares’ handicap. She ran a big race to be second at Ascot in November, when giving 20lb and first run to a well-treated rival, and has more to offer over the smaller obstacles. She has the assistance of Jonjo O’Neill Jr in the saddle and is surely overpriced at 10-1.

This is often a fruitful time of year for Paul Nicholls, who has had seven winners since Saturday morning, and his Dr Sanderson (3.15) is a popular choice to get off the mark over fences at odds of 100-30. He scored here over hurdles in April and should appreciate a drier surface than for his first two attempts in chases.

Pick of the card at Southwell could be Latent Heat (2.30), who showed a deal of promise to be beaten just a length on his first start for Tony Carroll, despite repeated trouble in running. This ex-Irish four-year-old is now partnered by the 7lb claimer Elisha Whittington, who is five from 12 for the trainer this year.

Southwell 1.30 Mulzim 2.00 Ladyleys Beluga 2.30 Latent Heat (nap) 3.00 Lion Tower 3.30 Mosakhar 4.00 Requinto Dawn 4.30 Arabian King

Ludlow 1.45 Langer Dan 2.15 Paint The Dream 2.45 Drinks Interval (nb) 3.15 Dr Sanderson 3.45 Dorah 4.15 Monbeg Gold 4.45 Polish

Wolverhampton 5.05 Power Home 5.40 Never Dark 6.10 Knockabout Queen 6.40 Sunshineandbubbles 7.10 Ghaith 7.40 Pink Jazz 8.10 Sir I'll Chance It

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