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.