I thought Michael O'Leary was a self-promoting narcissist – but now I understand him

Owner Michael O'Leary and trainer Gordon Elliott, right, after winning the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase with Delta Work on day two - Getty/Harry Murphy
Owner Michael O'Leary and trainer Gordon Elliott, right, after winning the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase with Delta Work on day two - Getty/Harry Murphy

That was brilliant. The Cheltenham Festival exceeded all expectations, the champions won and there was no whip meltdown fest; and for that we should congratulate the British Horseracing Authority and the jockeys.

So where will champion hurdler Constitution Hill run next? The owner, Michael Buckley, and trainer, Nicky Henderson, both love Punchestown, so that is the obvious target. But Buckley is a maverick and I wonder if he might go for the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot on May 3?

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For those who could not make it to the Cotswolds, ITV did a terrific job and again illustrated that it is a great terrestrial broadcasting partner.

My heart sank originally when a daily sermon from the Ryanair boss and mega racehorse owner Michael O’Leary was flagged up on ITV’s schedule. For some time I have had O’Leary down as a self-promoting narcissist and his annual whinge about the handicap weight that Tiger Roll got in the Grand National was nauseating. But I am now an O’Leary convert.

I certainly do not agree with even half of what he says, but I have come to love the fact that he puts it all out there. Wouldn’t life be incredibly dull if everyone kept their beliefs to themselves?

It was pretty brutal of him to undermine and pressurise Davy Russell’s comeback from retirement by saying it was a mistake that  did not put his family first. But I do believe that O’Leary genuinely worries that it might be one step too far for Russell. So why not say so?


I love watching Davy ride his way through a race, particularly in a big field, but how would I feel if my pleasure came at the expense of a bad fall for him? Not good.

O’Leary was also critical of the new whip rule that disqualifies horses if their rider uses it in excess. But name me one other sport where you can deliberately break the rules to get an advantage and be allowed to win? As it turned out, it was probably this rule that finally persuaded the jockeys that “anything goes at the Festival” would be counter-productive. Not that I expect O’Leary to concede that.

He is, however, right about a lot of things, not least the enigma of giving mares a weight allowance against geldings when they have mares-only races to run in.

His assertion that “I couldn’t care less what people think of me – I’m just the idiot who writes out the cheques” was endearing, as was his promise that “I always learn from my mistakes”. Well maybe I am the one who has been mistaken, as far as O’Leary goes.


I know why Irish trainers dominate

There is still a large elephant in the room as far as English trainers are concerned. And that is the dominance of the Irish trainers not just at the Festival, but at every big National Hunt meeting in the calendar.

This supremacy is easy to explain. There are more Irish people who will get out their cheque books to buy nice horses than English. And, not surprisingly, a few English owners like the idea of having horses with the urbane Willie Mullins.

The sale held at Cheltenham during the Festival is an accurate snapshot of the market and is indicative of continued Irish supremacy in five years' time. Twenty horses went under the hammer for a total of £3,450,000 at a median price of £140,000.


Irish trainer Gordon Elliot bought the two top lots, Romeo Coolio and Jalon d’Oudairies, for £420,000 each. They are both four-year-olds who have won a point-to-point in Ireland this spring.

Two years ago Elliot missed the Festival altogether, serving a six-month ban for being photographed sitting on a dead horse.

The reaction of his clients to that incident was polarising. Most of the English clients he had jumped ship, but his Irish owners very much closed ranks and supported him.

The next talent sale will be held at Aintree on April 13 before the Grand National that weekend. Expect Irish buyers to continue dominating  the "transfer market". Good luck to them. You have to be in it to win it.