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Sunday 20 August 2017

Cheltenham 2015: Michael O'Leary keeps his feet on ground

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary
Road To Riches trainer Noel Meade, left, jockey Bryan Cooper, Michael O'Leary from the Gigginstown House Stud and his wife Anita after winning the Lexus Steeplechase at Leopardstown in December

Cheltenham is where everyone wants to have a winner. The small man dreams of having one in a lifetime, while the very biggest of trainers, jockeys and owners will claim that one a week would be considered a good result.

You'd have to think that Michael O'Leary sets his standards a little higher, in private at least. Last year he ran over 100 individual horses on the track in Ireland before Cheltenham and went to the meeting with a strong team.

The fact that his Gigginstown House Stud was responsible for owning four winners at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival suggests it was a year to remember but it doesn't tell the whole story. After three days of the meeting O'Leary had no winners and his stable jockey had undergone surgery for a broken leg that the Turf Club doctor claimed to be one of the worst he has ever witnessed.

"It was a very quiet dinner," O'Leary said musing back to the Thursday of Cheltenham 12 months ago. "Eddie (brother and racing manager) was even quieter than I was. I was saying 'sure we had a good year in Ireland.'

"Eddie feels under more pressure than I do. He gets a bit of slagging when things aren't going well… From the lads at bloodstock sales, agents, pinhookers. I say to them 'Try and do a better job than he's doing.' He's done a phenomenal job. With a lot less horses, we're batting well above our average in graded races. We've had a very lucky year which probably means it will all come to a grinding halt at Cheltenham."

O'Leary plays down his Cheltenham claims this year. He never lets himself get excited about potential winners because he doesn't want to then be disappointed.

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Bryan Cooper won feature race at Roscommon on The Game Changer

"A successful Cheltenham is to have one winner. Anything over that is a bonus, anything less than that is a terrible disappointment," O'Leary continued.

"The earlier you get the winner the better. I have been lucky that for the last six or seven years I only had one blank two years ago - which feels very miserable - but that is the nature of the game.

"It's very hard to win races at Cheltenham. I go there with reasonable chances and hopefully one of them will win."

It's fair to say that this week, O'Leary appears to have his best collection of 'reasonable chances' yet but he added; "I suspect after winning four races last year I'm probably heading for zero again this year!

"My view in racing is always to travel with extreme pessimism and then be pleasantly surprised if you get anything other than a beating. I can go through all of my entries in Cheltenham and give you reasons why they won't win. I don't go there with any expectations including the ones that are favourites."

With such intent to play down his chances it was fairly clear that O'Leary was then hardly going to pinpoint his best chance of the week but he did admit that the Ryanair Chase, for which his own Don Cossack is favourite, was the race he'd take over any other at the week.

"Honestly, if I picked one (horse), they'd do a leg in the morning. If I had my pick this year, I'd love to win the Ryanair. I've never won it; I've been second I think three times. I'd like to win it, only because I'd be presenting it (trophy) to Anita (wife) and I'd get a big snog

out of it!

"I'd love to go to Cheltenham one year and win the Supreme Novices Hurdle, just to see what it's like to win the first race, and be able to relax for the rest of the week."

O'Leary will have his first runners in the Cheltenham Bumper this year but it is not a race he has much of a grá for.

Indeed, while Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott have twisted his arm to contend the Cheltenham Bumper this year, even his desire to own a Champion Hurdle winner is quite low and you can forget about the Cross Country Race.

GUIDED

Gordon Elliott had entered Roi Du Mee for that race at Cheltenham but O'Leary, who said that Roi Du Mee would join an elite three of War Of Attrition, Last Instalment and Weapon's Amnesty in retiring at Gigginstown, suggested "hell will freeze over" before he runs one of his better horses in that race.

"I buy my horses to see them jumping fences, not running around on the flat but I am guided by Willie Mullins and Gordon and they said they'd like to run Stone Hard and General Principle so fine, go ahead."

Handicaps are not high on his agenda either. Just nice to win at somewhere like Cheltenham. This is an outfit spending a lot of money buying young horses to win Grade One's.

Read More: Michael O'Leary on... Trying to win a second Gold Cup

Of the novice hurdling team; "Outlander was a very good bumper horse who had lot of niggly problems last year, and Willie didn't run him. He won three bumpers on the trot two seasons ago.

"He was disappointing at Limerick, where he was not able to beat Martello Tower but he reversed that form at Punchestown. He's with the master trainer. I'd worry more about Tell Us More in that he hasn't run more. He's really only had two runs, the impressive maiden hurdle in Gowran and then gets chinned in grade one in Naas. Going to Cheltenham with only two runs is not ideal in terms of experience. If he's fit and well, he'll go there. I don't see any reason not to go there… he's good enough to go there.

If you ran that race at Naas 10 times again, nine times he'd beat McKinley and Free Expression but that's what happens in those small field races."

When asked to nominate one horse running at Cheltenham that he would like to see the famous maroon and white Gigginstown colours, O'Leary had no hesitation in putting forward tomorrow's Arkle favourite.

"I'd have to say, Un De Sceaux. He'll either win or he'll fall, so there's a 50-50 chance of one or the other. He's fairly buzzy so I'm not sure if he's the right horse for Cheltenham but far and away he's the best horse in the race."

So did O'Leary every try and get him into the Gigginstown team?

"No. We tend not to buy established horses. It's not what we would have done in the past. You know, Mr O'Connell is long-standing owner of Willie's and he doesn't sell his horses, and that's good.

"Like everybody else, he (Un De Sceaux) is one phone call away from a leg (injury). Trying to buy those established horses is a waste of time. I'd rather have my own coming through.

"I'm happy to buy a bumper horse or a point-to-point winner. I've enough on my own plate without going out to buy the made horse for crazy money."

 

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