Michael O’Leary

Michael O’Leary  Not many owners can say that their first success at the Cheltenham Festival came in the blue riband of the National Hunt season, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but one who can is Michael O’Leary, the proprietor of Gigginstown House Stud. His maroon and white colours were first carried to victory by War Of Attrition, trained by Michael “Mouse” Morris, in 2006 and, since then, O’Leary has recorded 25 more wins, making him the second most successful owner in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, behind J.P. McManus.

O’Leary won the Cheltenham Gold Cup again in 2016 with Don Cossack, trained by Gordon Elliott, but it was seven winners at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018 – far and away the best year, so far, for Gigginstown House Stud – that caused him to remark, “When I die, this is the week I’ll remember.”

Despite the defeat of one Irish ‘banker’, Apple’s Jade in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, his seven winners included another, Samcro in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and, finally, after 15 years of trying, he won the Ryanair Chase – the race he sponsors, as chief executive of the Irish low-cost airline – with Balko Des Flos, trained by Henry De Bromhead. Unsurprisingly, Gigginstown House Stud won the Leading Owner Award at the Cheltenham Festival, beating J.P. McManus into second place for the second year running.

O’Leary still has some way to go to catch McManus, but Gigginstown House Stud is, undoubtedly, a dominant force in Irish National Hunt racing. Principal trainer Gordon Elliott – who has saddled 11 of the 19 winners owned by Gigginstown House Stud at the last five Cheltenham Festivals and won the Leading Trainer Award in 2017 and 2018 – continues to flourish, so there appears no reason why O’Leary cannot make further inroads into McManus’ lead in the years to come.

Graham Wylie

Graham Wylie  Businessman Graham Wylie is the most successful owner in the North of England and, together with his wife, Andrea, has had 13 winners at the Cheltenham Festival. Initially, the Wylies were the principal patrons of County Durham trainer Howard Johnson, to whom they were fiercely loyal. In those early years, the Wylies were best known as the owners of Inglis Drever, the first horse to win the Stayers’ Hurdle three times, in 2005, 2007 and 2008, but their distinctive beige and black colours were also carried to victory by Arcalis in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and No Refuge in the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle in 2005 and Tidal Bay in the Arkle Challenge Trophy in 2008.

 

However, in 2011 a disciplinary inquiry conducted by the British Horseracing Authority concluded that Johnson had shown “a reckless regard” for the rules on horse welfare and warned him off for four years. Johnson immediately announced his retirement, leaving Graham Wylie to “think about” his own involvement in racing. Wylie downscaled his operation, selling many of his horses and dispersing the remainder to the best trainers on either side of the Irish Sea, in his opinion, Paul Nicholls in Britain and Willie Mullins in Ireland.

 

In fact, it was Mullins who saddled his next two Cheltenham Festival winners, Back In Focus in the National Hunt Chase and Briar Hill in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 2013. After drawing a blank in 2014 and 2015, the Wylies returned to the winners’ enclosure three times in 2016, courtesy of Solar Impulse, trained by Paul Nicholls, in the Grand Annual Chase and Black Hercules and Yorkhill, both trained by Willie Mullins, in the JLT Novices’ Chase and the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, respectively. In 2017, they won the JLT Novices’ Chase again, with Yorkhill, and completed a notable double with Nicholls Canyon, also trained by Mullins, in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

J.P. McManus

J.P. McManus  The green and gold silks of John Patrick “J.P.” McManus are familiar throughout the world of National Hunt racing, on both sides of the Irish Sea, but perhaps nowhere more so than the Cheltenham Festival, where they’ve been carried to victory no fewer than 53 times. McManus, who has a net worth of €2.1 billion, is reputed to have collected £250,000 in a single bet when Mister Donovan won what is now the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in 1982, and hasn’t looked back since.

 

The Limerick-born Irishman has won the Champion Hurdle seven times, with Istabraq three times, in 1998, 1999 and 2000, Binocular in 2010, Jezki in 2014 and Buveur D’Air twice, in 2017 and 2018, the Stayers’ Hurdle three times, with Baracouda twice, in 2002 and 2003 and More Of That in 2014, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Synchronised in 2012.

 

McManus is far and away the leading owner at the Cheltenham Festival, some 29 winners ahead of his nearest pursuer, Gigginstown House Stud, although, with 17 winners at the Festival since 2014, Michael O’Leary’s operation has made substantial inroads into his lead in recent years. But, as McManus himself put it, “Racing is a great leveller. The day you think you have mastered the game, you will be made to pay for it the following day.” Nevertheless, with a string of horses in training in Ireland and the United Kingdom, McManus is likely to continue his love affair with the Cheltenham Festival for a good while yet.