It feels a little peculiar to be writing this about a grown man and successful businessman but Michael O’Leary’s comments this week fully deserve to be challenged. O’Leary (60) expressed his dissatisfaction with the weight allotted to his dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll in a series of bizarre statements and personal attacks on handicapper Martin Greenwood. The best metaphor I can use to summarise his tirade is that of a child storming off and declaring that they are taking their ball home. There are two major problems with O’Leary’s protests, their legitimacy and the manner in which he delivered them.
One of O’Leary’s most problematic statements was this: “Since we are responsible for the welfare of Tiger Roll, we must protect him from the idiotic opinion of this handicapper.” It is absolutely unacceptable to be so alarmingly disrespectful both in normal society and within this professional context. Martin Greenwood is an experienced professional who does not deserve to have his intelligence called into question for simply doing his job.
Perhaps more disturbingly, his statement suggests that the handicapper doesn’t care about horse welfare. Such unfounded accusations are both harmful and incredibly insulting. One can only assume that this was his intention which is both childish and spiteful. The complete lack of respect and humility shown points to a deeper issue. The sense of entitlement conveyed here only stops short of saying the cliched ‘don’t you know who I am?’ which is disappointing to say the least.
Another issue at play here is the legitimacy of O’Leary’s argument. The primary job of the handicapper is to provide a fair playing field wherein every horse has an equal chance of winning. While there is room for sentiment, providing Tiger Roll with the penalty kick O’Leary is after is unfair to the connections of the other horses running in the race. O’Leary’s attempts to handicap his own horses set a dangerous precedent, if he was able to influence the handicapper the integrity of the sport would be threatened.
It is refreshing to see connections not so subtle attempts to get his mark lowered since his last National victory go unrewarded. A 2lb higher mark than the one he had for his 2019 victory isn’t unreasonable and this view is echoed by Gordon Elliott: “We will see how Cheltenham goes but he has got a nice weight”. It would consequently seem as if O’Leary has chosen to fight this pointless battle alone.
Whether O’Leary had a legitimate case or not, the way in which he has gone about this is shameful. He should perhaps take a leaf out of Henry De Bromhead’s book who managed to express his disappointment in defending champion Minella Times’ new mark through polite surprise. The fact that this isn’t O’Leary’s first outburst (although it is his worst) suggests that he won’t be learning a more constructive way to argue his cases in the future.