O'Leary aims for command in owners' war of attrition

 

One of the year's most spirited sporting rivalries may be settled today, though neither participant has ever broken sweat against the other in spikes or with bat, club, racket or ball. The most strenuous activity for a racehorse owner may be signing a cheque or walking to the winner's podium and J P McManus and Michael O'Leary have done plenty of both.

With less than three weeks of the jumping season to go and a wealthy businessman's pride at stake, the pair are running (if only on paper) neck-and-neck for the Irish owners' title. This afternoon at Fairyhouse they will collectively account for a third of the field for their country's richest contest, the Irish Grand National, with 10 entries between them.

McManus, whose top earner Synchronised took last month's Cheltenham Gold Cup, is already assured of a sixth championship in Britain. On his own turf, he has won 15 and had things pretty much, and perhaps boringly, his own way until O'Leary entered the arena and spiced things up. Two years ago, after five successive runner-up spots, the Ryanair boss topped the leaderboard for the first time, lost out narrowly last season and goes into this year's run for home a metaphorical nose behind.

Like McManus, whose famous green, white and gold colours are those of South Liberties GAA club in Limerick, O'Leary adopted sporting silks, maroon and white being the livery of his home county of Westmeath's football side. And both men swiftly acquired a taste for prestige success. McManus's first horse Cill Dara won the 1976 Irish Cesarewitch; O'Leary's first, Tuco, showed much promise before being killed in action at Fairyhouse 10 years ago today and his second was the Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition.

This afternoon, War Of Attrition's young brother Four Commanders (4.50) leads O'Leary's assault on the €250,000 (£206,000) National purse and, although nothing like as good as his celebrated brother, is a classy, progressive young stayer. The perceived best of McManus's quintet is Groody Hill, but a greater danger may be Allee Garde, who fell early in the Cheltenham four-miler in which Four Commanders ran a gallant third.

To take a title, which is decided on earnings, both quality and quantity are desirable and O'Leary is the only one in Ireland remotely able to take the game to McManus. But – happily – to find a champion does not always take limitless resources. The best horse seen at Fairyhouse's Easter meeting may prove to be the hugely exciting novice Flemenstar, who put his rivals, headed by O'Leary's four-timer seeking Rathlin, to the sword good and proper in yesterday's Grade One Power Gold Cup.

The seven-year-old, who cruised in by 11 lengths under Andrew Lynch to take his win streak to five, is one of just 14 horses in the Co Meath stable of extrovert septugenarian trainer Peter Casey. Four years ago, offered at auction by owner Stephen Curran, the gelding could not find a buyer at £6,500. He is now second favourite in some lists for next year's Cheltenham Gold Cup. "I can't believe we've got one this good," said Casey, "but he is, isn't he?"

Synchronised will be heading for Aintree on Saturday, confirmed yesterday as a starter in the Grand National and now a firm 7-1 favourite in most lists to give Tony McCoy, Jonjo O'Neill and McManus their second victory in three years. The best-backed horse over the weekend was the Willie Mullins-trained On His Own, now as short as 10-1 after becoming the choice of Ruby Walsh, who already has two Nationals on his CV.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap: Periphery (2.25 Yarmouth)

Not the highest-profile inmate of his powerful stable, but his maiden second last year reads extremely well and he still holds the Guineas entry.

Next Best: Mac's Power (3.20 Warwick)

Failed to win last season but consistent in top handicap company, including the narrowest of defeats first time out.

One to watch: King Of Jazz (Michael Bell) finished best of all when third over six furlongs at Doncaster on his first run for his present yard and should be noted when he steps back up to seven.

Where the money's going: Burton Point is now 4-1 from 6s with Paddy Power for Thursday's Betfair Bowl on the first day of the Grand National meeting.

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