Don and Jade go to Elliott
The world of National Hunt racing was rocked on Wednesday morning when it was announced by Willie Mullins that he would no longer be training for Gigginstown House Stud.
Bryan Cooper and Willie Mullins (right) with Don Poli.
Ireland's perennial champion trainer, Mullins' dominance of the sport is so great that he was nearly crowned the leading handler in Britain last season and was only denied by Paul Nicholls on the final day.
Gigginstown have been the growing force in the National Hunt scene in recent years and claimed the owners' championship in Ireland for the fourth time during 2015-16.
However, the two parties have agreed to go their separate ways after Mullins raised his training fees and Gigginstown, which is run by Ryanair's Michael O'Leary and his brother, Eddie, refused to pay the new rate.
Gordon Elliott, who trained Don Cossack to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup for Gigginstown in March, will be one of the trainers to benefit from the split.
Mullins told At The Races: "We're parting company – it's basically over fees, I imagine. I put up my fees for the first time in 10 years and Gigginstown chose not to pay them.
"That's it, we're just parting company.
"I'm not willing to try to maintain the standards I have (without putting the fees up), so that's the way it is."
In a statement released to RTE Sport, Gigginstown said: "As Gigginstown House Stud has been unable to reach agreement with Willie Mullins on an increase in training fees, we have agreed – with considerable regret – to move the Gigginstown horses to alternative trainers for the coming 2016/17 season.
"Gigginstown wishes to sincerely thank Willie and all the team at Closutton for the many Grade One races we have won together over the past seven years.
"We hope that an agreement can be reached at some time in the future which will allow Willie to resume buying and training more graded winners for us.
"While we part at this time with regret, we wish Willie and all the team at Closutton continued success."
The combination have enjoyed Cheltenham Festival success with the likes of Sir Des Champs and Don Poli in previous years, while Valseur Lido, Outlander and the hugely-promising Apple's Jade all achieved big-race glory in the maroon and white silks last term.
Of all National Hunt trainers on both sides of the Irish Sea, though, Mullins is possibly best placed to cope with the loss of 60 horses.
His stable stars such as Annie Power, Faugheen and Douvan all wear the pink and green colours of Rich Ricci, while Graham Wylie can also look forward to the season thanks to Yorkhill, Bellshill and others.
Mullins went on: "Everyone that comes into my yard is treated the same. I see enough people going to the wall in Ireland all the time.
"We've evolved our methods of training, which obviously costs a lot, and we're not prepared to sacrifice that.
"They've been very good to us over the years, they've bought some fantastic horses and there's a fantastic team of horses going to whoever is going to get them, I don't know where they are going to go.
"It's only been in the last few hours this has come about. I wish them the best, it's the way it is, we move on.
"Whoever gets the horses will be a big challenge to me being champion trainer, they are a fantastic team of horses.
"They'll be very hard horses to replace. Even with all the money in the world, lots of people try to buy horses like that, but sometimes they just happen.
"We've put together a fantastic team with Eddie O'Leary and ourselves but that's it. It's there now and the team is there for someone else to train."
Elliott told the Irish Independent: "I've been told that I will get about 20 horses, including Don Poli, Apple's Jade and Blow By Blow.
"Willie is a gentleman, a man I admire and look up to. This is obviously a big boost for us, another step up the ladder towards being champion trainer one day, that is what I hope.
"I am still realistic to know that Willie Mullins has so much ammunition but hopefully some day it will happen for me.
"I had no idea this would happen."
Henry de Bromhead, Joseph O'Brien, Mouse Morris – who won the Grand National this year with the Gigginstown-owned Rule The World – and Noel Meade are the other trainers reportedly set to receive a share of the ex-Mullins' horses.
Bookmakers reacted by slashing the price of Paul Nicholls to retain his UK trainers' championship title. He is now a 1/3 chance from 4/5 with Sky Bet, whose spokesman Michael Shinners said: "It's going to be fascinating as to where these horses end up now, with Gordon Elliott a possible beneficiary, but in the meantime it's clear that Willie Mullins won't have quite the same resources at his disposal this year if he intends to target the championship he so nearly clawed away from Nicholls at Sandown last season." Mullins is out to 11/4 with Nicky Henderson at 6/1.
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