Things are being shaken up in the horse racing world this week, as it’s announced that Irish racehorse trainer and ex-jockey Willie Mullins is losing 60 horses owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud, including star racers Don Poli and Apple’s Jade. It might not come as a huge surprise after Gigginstown removed some of their horses from other trainers back in May, but a massive 60 horses will prove to be quite a loss to Mullins, who claims that the fallout is all over fees.
Mullins told At The Races that “Yes, we’re parting company, just basically over fees, I would imagine. I’ve just put up my fees for the first time in 10 years and Gigginstown chose not to… well… pay. That’s it. We’re just parting company. I’m not willing to try and maintain the yard and the standards I have for… you know, that’s the way it is.”
As one of Ireland’s number one trainers, it seems reasonable enough for Mullins to hike his fees up every now and again, and some may be shocked by O’Leary’s operation’s decision. It certainly throws a shadow of uncertainty over the near future of Willie Mullins’ training career, and we’ve already seen the bookies’ response to the news. Betfair and Paddy Power both cut the odds on Paul Nicholls retaining the British trainers’ championship down from 1-5 to 4-7, with Mullins’ odds of winning the title down from 3-1 to 6-4.
Whether this represents an opportunity for a good value bet on one of the nation’s top racing trainers is difficult to say at this point, though Mullins does still have a great set of horses in his stable, including Annie Power and Douvan, both owned by Rich Ricci, and Yorkhill, owned by Graham Wylie. If anyone can ride out the rough of losing 60 Gigginstown horses in a morning, it’s probably Mullins.
Likewise, it’ll be interesting to see who those horses end up with and how it affects the odds in their favour. Currently, the names most being tossed around as favourites are Gordon Elliott, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Don Cossack back in March; Mouse Morris, whose Rule the World of course won the Grand National this year, and Henry de Bromhead, who may be on the lookout for new horses after losing man owned by Alan and Ann Potts recently.
In their favour, both parties seem to be handling the split with good sportsmanship. Mullins had nothing but praise for his experience with Gigginstown. “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… I wish them the best, it’s the way it is, we move on.”
Likewise, Gigginstown issued a statement to RTE Sport thanking Mullins for his years of work with their horses and making it clear that a future reconciliation isn’t out of the question. “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. 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.”
It’s certainly an interesting time to be following the horses and this latest development only adds more intrigue to the upcoming Irish trainers championship. While Paddy Power have already made Gordon Elliott their favourite, Mullins’ strong track record and star-studded stable may yet manage to part Nicholls from his title this year.