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Category: Michael O’Leary

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Tiger Roll holds on to win dramatic Grand National in photo-finish

• Davy Russell rides winner for trainer Gordon Elliott• Ireland dominate race with first four horses homeTiger Roll clung on to win an incident-packed Grand National dominated by Irish runners, going clear on the run-in but then almost being reeled in …

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Irish excellence at Cheltenham a cause for celebration not protection | Greg Wood

Talk of introducing barriers to keep Irish the Irish in check after their 17-winner haul at the Festival are ridiculous – the best jumping horses should be celebrated regardless of their originAs if another thumping return from Cheltenham and then the …

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Samcro aiming for bigger Cheltenham prizes after living up to Festival hype

• Brilliant winner could have 2020 Gold Cup in his sights• Michael O’Leary starts to believe after Ballymore victorySamcro is not the second coming of Jesus Christ, we have been assured by his owner, but, for many punters here, he will do until Jesus C…

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Outlander is big hope as Gordon Elliott looks to improve his Festival numbers

• Back-to-back Cheltenham Gold Cups remain a possibility
• Death Duty and Tombstone the other main hopes for Festival

Gordon Elliott knows for certain there is one Gold Cup winner in his yard as Don Cossack, successful in last season’s race but since retired due to injury, is still stabled at his County Meath base. But there may soon prove to be two, as Elliott will send Outlander and Don Poli to the Cheltenham Festival’s feature event on 17 March and remains optimistic that Outlander in particular could be up to the task of winning it.

There would be an added twist if either of them were to win, as both joined Elliott’s stable in the autumn following the split between Michael O’Leary, their owner, and Willie Mullins, who has saddled six runners-up in the Gold Cup but never the winner.

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Outlander and Kennedy ensure O’Leary interrupts Mullins dominance

• ‘It’s business,’ O’Leary says of split with ‘genius of a trainer’ Mullins
• Lexus Chase victory at Leopardstown is 100th winner for 17-year-old jockey

Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, became a billionaire by cutting costs whenever he could but for the first two and a half days of the Christmas meeting here he looked like a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Related: Horse racing tips: Thursday 29 December

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Michael O’Leary may pay for clash of egos when Cheltenham comes around

O’Leary’s decision prompted general astonishment, especially as Willie Mullins has no equals when it comes to bringing horses to their peak at the Festival

Even for a man who once threatened to force Ryanair passengers to pay to use the toilet, the penny-pinching logic that apparently persuaded Michael O’Leary to quit the Willie Mullins stable seems surprisingly short-sighted. O’Leary is one of the richest men in Ireland. No matter how much Mullins has hiked his fees, it could never be the kind of money that O’Leary would actually miss, yet he has still chosen to walk away from the most successful stable in the game.

Amid the general astonishment that followed Wednesday’s announcement, most attention was on horses that Mullins has lost, including proven top-class performers such as Apple’s Jade, Don Poli and Valseur Lido. There will surely be some future stars too among the novices and bumper horses leaving the yard. Mullins can expect to see horses that were in his stable on Tuesday morning winning Grade Ones for rival trainers for several seasons to come.

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Willie Mullins loses 60 Gigginstown Stud horses after training fees row

• Michael O’Leary removes string after first rise in payments for 10 years
• Owner’s decision blow to County Carlow handler’s championship chances

Willie Mullins, whose string has dominated top-class National Hunt racing in both Ireland and Britain in recent seasons, suffered a debilitating blow to the strength of his stable on Wednesday morning when Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud removed all 60 of its horses from his County Carlow yard following what is claimed to be a row over training fees.

Related: Willie Mullins says winning jump title in Britain is not a priority

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Willie Mullins loses 60 Gigginstown Stud horses after training fees row

• Michael O’Leary removes string after first rise in payments for 10 years
• Owner’s decision blow to County Carlow handler’s championship chances

Willie Mullins, whose string has dominated top-class National Hunt racing in both Ireland and Britain in recent seasons, suffered a debilitating blow to the strength of his stable on Wednesday morning when Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud removed all 60 of its horses from his County Carlow yard following what is claimed to be a row over training fees.

Related: Willie Mullins says winning jump title in Britain is not a priority

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Willie Mullins’ prize-money plea to Cheltenham would benefit rich owners

The champion trainer’s proposal would benefit such as Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary, who would probably struggle to guess to the nearest 50 grand how much his horses have won in the past five years

Thirty years ago, the Cheltenham Festival just happened. Now, the weeks leading up to National Hunt’s showpiece are filled with an ever-expanding schedule of media mornings and preview nights. It all helps to prolong the excitement and anticipation before a meeting that has come to dominate the season but takes only four days to run.

There is element of pantomime about many of these events, and the media mornings in particular. Trainers parade a few of their horses, suggest that they are hoping “for a bit of better ground”, and make encouraging noises about the main contenders that stop well short of tempting fate. The script is well-rehearsed, it is just the names of the horses that change.

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Gary Moore could give Sire De Grugy another prep at Chepstow on Saturday

• Moore: ‘He did a nice bit of work last Saturday’
• Champion will definitely get an entry at Chepstow
• Gigginstown House Stud strike with treble at Navan
• Balder Succes lands Grade One Ascot Chase

Sire De Grugy, the reigning champion chaser, could make a surprise appearance at Chepstow this Saturday after Gary Moore, his trainer, explained how “disappointed” he was with his comeback run at Newbury earlier this month.

The son of My Risk had made a belated comeback at Newbury on 7 February in the Game Spirit Chase, where he failed to jump with his usual fluency and, after a series of blunders, unseated Jamie Moore, his jockey, at the third last fence.

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Michael O’Leary retires Last Instalment after Cheltenham Gold Cup fall

• Nine year old runs final race after unseating Brian O’Connell
• BHA spared more controversy as Lord Windermere wins

Last Instalment, the horse that began the day as the most unpopular Gold Cup chance in recent memory given the doping charges hanging over his trainer, ended it having been retired by his owner, Michael O’Leary.

Given the reminders this week of the very real dangers national hunt racing poses to horse and jockey, no one involved in the sport would ever cheer a faller. But there were undoubtedly huge sighs of relief among the sport’s administrators that the winner of the Gold Cup was not Last Instalment, who started despite the doping allegations facing the third favourite’s trainer, Philip Fenton, but Lord Windermere.

The horse started well, remaining in the leading group throughout the first half of the race and hit the front at one stage on the first circuit of the course.

At that point, the PR disaster and reputational damage that the British Horseracing Authority must have feared ever since concluding that there was nothing they could do to stop Fenton’s three runners competing looked possible.

But by the time Last Instalment, owned by O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, unseated jockey Brian O’Connell six from home he was visibly tiring and dropping back through the field and was subsequently found to have a recurrence of a leg injury.

Afterwards, O’Leary – who had lobbied the BHA to allow the horse to run – said he was going to retire the nine-year-old. The Ryanair founder had plenty to celebrate elsewhere on the final day of the Festival with four other winners – Very Wood, Tiger Roll, Don Poli and Savello.

Fenton was last month revealed to be facing charges for the possession of unauthorised animal remedies, including anabolic steroids, following an Irish Department of Agriculture inspection in January 2012.

The governing body came to the view that it legally had no option but to let Last Instalment, plus two other Fenton trained horses, run this week after tests and an investigation found no evidence they had been treated with steroids.

So on one of the few days of the year when the rest of the sporting world turns to racing, the winner of the Festival’s showpiece was a feelgood tale of unexpected triumph rather than the latest chapter in racing’s difficult year of doping scandals. In a Guardian interview on the eve of the Festival Irish trainer Willie Mullins had said this year’s Cheltenham would be forever known as “the year of the cloud”. A relieved BHA will now turn to the publication of a report in mid-April that is due to propose stronger penalties and beef up its testing regime.

O’Leary had written a strongly worded letter to the BHA asserting the right of Last Instalment to run. On the morning of the race O’Leary’s brother Eddie, who runs their racing operation, was even more outspoken, saying he “couldn’t care less” about the reaction if Last Instalment won. “There could be booing, cheering, and I wouldn’t give a rat’s backside,” he said.

The Fenton revelations came hard on the heels of two other major scandals that have rocked the sport. First came the al-Zarooni affair 11 months ago, when a trainer employed by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Stable was banned for eight years for administering steroids to 15 horses.

Later that month, Irish trainer Gerard Butler admitted to using Sungate, a treatment for joints that contains anabolic steroids.

As the Cheltenham caravan packs up for another year, attention will now turn to the rather less colourful surroundings of Carrick-on-Suir court on 20 March, where Fenton will answer eight charges of possession of anabolic steroids and other banned substances. For the BHA and racing’s administrators, the respite may only be temporary.

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Last Instalment challenges integrity

British Horseracing Authority faces an anxious wait for jump racing’s most prestigious race

Paul Bittar, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, will know just how the punters feel as Last Instalment is circling here at the three-and-a-quarter-mile start at 19 minutes past three on Friday afternoon. The tension, the anticipation, the butterflies in the stomach. Will it be the horse that you want that gallops up the hill at the end of the Gold Cup? Or will it be the one that you don’t?

About 70,000 people will be here for the final day, and most prestigious event, of the National Hunt Festival, and few will not be aware of the cloud that hangs over Last Instalment and his trainer, Philip Fenton. Win or lose on Friday afternoon, he will return to his leading role in a more serious and significant drama next week, when he is due to appear in court charged with the illegal possession of veterinary products, including ethylestranol, a powerful anabolic steroid. In a word: dope.

Most of the spectators will be well aware too that the drugs were allegedly found in January 2012 during a raid conducted by Ireland’s Ministry of Agriculture, and not the Irish Turf Club, the country’s equivalent of the BHA, which apparently remained ignorant of the pending case against Fenton until a few weeks ago. And also that the BHA sent a drug-testing team on to the Turf Club’s territory to take blood and hair samples from Fenton’s three intended runners at the Cheltenham Festival. All three tested negative.

BHA investigators also interviewed Fenton, though for legal reasons the Authority will not say what he was asked or how he responded. “Why did you have a banned, powerful performance-enhancing drug at your yard if you did not intend to use it on your horses?” would have been one obvious way to start, but however the interview went, the BHA decided that there was no reason why it should stop Fenton’s horses travelling to Cheltenham.

Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair and Last Instalment’s owner, is adamant his horse should run. He told BBC Sport on Thursday: “People are desperate to make a controversy out of nothing.”

He added: “The basis of any judgment system in the UK or Ireland is that you are innocent until proven otherwise. I’m very comfortable with it. The issue with Philip is more than two years old. It should have been prosecuted long before now.”

Bittar declined to offer any further comment on Thursday, but any idea that the decision to let Fenton’s horses run here was a gamble is dismissed out of hand.

“BHA would not have allowed the horse to run if we had any concerns regarding his involvement in the race based on evidence of having been administered with performance-enhancing substances,” Robin Mounsey, the Authority’s spokesman, said. “The fact of the matter is that this was not the case and therefore the racing public should be reassured that none of the Fenton-trained horses entered for Cheltenham have been administered with performance-enhancing substances. It is on this basis that we sought to protect the reputation of the sport.”

Yet they have taken a punt. In fact, they may have bet the house on the outcome of a single race.

All racing depends absolutely on the public’s belief in its integrity, that the horses are trying, are running on their merits, that the winners have not been doped and the losers have not been stopped. It sells the tickets and keeps people both watching and betting.

A highlight of the racing calendar such as the Festival, which showcases the sport to the wider public, would wither without it. Steroids, which can improve a horse’s performance long after the drug itself has cleared the system, challenge that belief like nothing else.

There are some, perhaps many, inside the racing bubble who still do not fully appreciate the damage that could be done to the sport’s public image by the coverage and headlines that would follow a Gold Cup success for a trainer facing criminal charges involving steroids. Nor, for that matter, how difficult it would be to repair. Once the association is made, as cycling has discovered, it can be almost impossible to break. That is the stake that the racing’s regulator has pushed across the counter before Friday’s Gold Cup, and the odds appear to be on their side. Last Instalment could yet be withdrawn on Friday morning due to concerns about the quick ground and, even if he does go to post, his form, including a front-running success in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown last month, suggests he is best with some cut in the ground.

The BHA has last year’s winner Bobs Worth on its side too, and Silviniaco Conti, who was going every bit as well as Bobs Worth until he fell three out. Triolo D’Alene, with Tony McCoy in the saddle, is another solid candidate along with First Lieutenant, who is also owned by O’Leary. Last Instalment is, after all, an 8-1 shot, which suggests that he is about eight times more likely to lose than he is to come home in front. But the fact that he is in the race at all will mean that the gamble with racing’s public image is alive, and the horse with a cloud over its head is in the mix.

The BHA stopped Kieren Fallon riding here when he faced corruption charges in a high-profile case which eventually proved groundless. Could it really find no reason to keep Fenton’s horses out of the country until his case has concluded one way or another? The question is futile. The time for action has passed. Chance takes over from here.

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Michael O’Leary hopes loyalty in Last Instalment brings Gold Cup joy

Gigginstown House’s support of troubled trainer Philip Fenton is sure to come under intense scrutiny at Cheltenham

If Last Instalment wins the Gold Cup on Friday, the Cheltenham Festival may instantly cease to be the usual joyous and carefree betting jamboree and become instead a sort of collective cringe. This is the horse running beneath a drug cloud and victory for him could, perhaps unfairly, do great damage to racing’s reputation, but there will be at least one man prepared to speak up unflinchingly in defence of his achievement: his owner, the very, very outspoken Michael O’Leary.

“I don’t give a shit if no one likes me,” the Ryanair chief executive once said and indeed the same message is conveyed by many other things he says and does. He is aviation’s pantomime villain, a man who has built a huge business and made a fortune while cursing his customers, constantly capering on the edge of a PR disaster, yet somehow tumbling over into success.

In the wider world he irritates people with idle threats of charging for use of his toilets, by telling those whose relatives fall suddenly ill that “You’re not getting a refund, so fuck off, we don’t want to hear your sob stories,” or by registering his car as a taxi so he could be driven along Dublin’s bus lanes. In racing’s tiny parish, however, the response is indulgence, perhaps rooted in recognition.

O’Leary’s public persona should be familiar to anyone who followed the career of the betting pundit John McCririck, another who won fame and commercial opportunity through deliberate provocation of outrage. Publicity shots of both men show them striking silly poses with their mouths comically open. In each case the bluster hides a serious man, working harder than his rivals to know his subject backwards and forwards.

Of course, with a personal wealth estimated at £80m O’Leary is in a rather better position than McCririck ever was to invest in his favourite sport. The Ryanair man once guessed that racing, his only notable hobby, costs him something like €2m a year and anyone prepared to countenance that kind of spend will find a warm welcome in stables and sales rings wherever he or she goes.

“I have to say, he’s a fabulous owner,” says Noel Meade, who will saddle O’Leary’s Very Wood for a race at Cheltenham on Friday. “You know where you stand with him, he tells you what he thinks.”

Seven times Ireland’s champion trainer, Meade has found it hard to retain big-spending owners and quality horses in recent seasons. He admits that his Meath stables would be “a sorry place” without O’Leary. “He’s only interested in having good horses, he wants to run in the good races all the time. He buys a lot of young horses. He’s a marvellous man for Irish racing.”

A similar tale is offered by the Kildare trainer Conor O’Dwyer, who, asked what O’Leary is like to work for, replies: “Very straight, very black and white, there’s absolutely no grey area. He expects results and he pays for what he wants.”

Near the end of his former career as a jockey, O’Dwyer played a key role in confirming O’Leary’s passion for jumps racing, taking the mount on a novice hurdler called War Of Attrition after another rider had rejected him and driving the horse to be a close second at Cheltenham in 2004. O’Leary, an owner for less than three years at that stage, had £50 on the horse at 33-1, which he has said was the last bet he ever struck.

The frustration of that neck defeat was wiped away two years later when O’Dwyer and War Of Attrition won the Gold Cup itself. “That gave him a huge appetite for the game,” O’Dwyer said. “The beam on his face was amazing, whether it was joy or relief or shock.”

War Of Attrition is now retired in a field by O’Leary’s house near Mullingar, the object of rare sentiment from his owner. “I want to make sure we get War home in one piece so that he and I can look at each other for years,” he said while the horse was still racing. But the ruthlessness of his business persona pokes through from time to time, notably in the ditching of his retained jockey, Davy Russell, in January and his replacement with the much younger Bryan Cooper.

O’Leary will cheerfully discuss his racing habit when he finds himself sharing a winner’s enclosure with reporters. “I’m Irish. It’s drink, girls and horses, though not necessarily in that order,” he said after a success at the 2011 Festival, when asked what brought him into the game.

But he now turns down requests for racing-related interviews. His advisers say he regards it as private territory and, though he gave some time to the Racing Post back in 2010, he had misgivings. “I’m running a low-fare airline, so I don’t really want my name bandied about as a rich, lazy bastard with lots of horses in training … Once you step away from the dog and pony show of Ryanair, frankly, I don’t want the PR at all.”

Insiders report that he stays “miles away” from racing politics but he made a point of intervening recently when it appeared the British Horseracing Authority might prevent Last Instalment from running at Cheltenham, writing to explain in forceful terms why that would be a mistake.

Last Instalment is a victim of suspicion by association, being trained by Philip Fenton, who faces charges of possessing anabolic steroids. Fenton has yet to enter a plea or give any hint as to his line of defence but O’Leary says the trainer has assured him of his innocence and therefore he feels “duty bound” to stand by him.

If Fenton finds his way to the winner’s enclosure after the Gold Cup, many of those present will be wincing and fretting over how it looks to the outside world. Unabashed, Michael O’Leary can be relied on to celebrate as if no one else had an opinion.

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Cheltenham and BHA must stop steroids taking centre stage at Festival | Greg Wood

Last Instalment, trained at the Philip Fenton stable involved in drug allegations, must not be allowed to run in the Gold Cup

Last week’s adjournment of the court case against the trainer Philip Fenton, who faces charges in Ireland of illegally possessing various drugs including anabolic steroids, places both the British Horseracing Authority and Cheltenham racecourse in a position which has no entirely positive outcomes.

If Fenton’s chaser Last Instalment lines up for the Gold Cup on 14 March, a few days before the trainer’s next scheduled court appearance, he will do so under a thick cloud of suspicion. If he should win – and he is likely to start third-favourite – then the horse, trainer and Last Instalment’s owner, Michael O’Leary, will be fortunate if they escape being jeered all the way back to the top enclosure.

Should the BHA try to prevent Fenton sending horses to Cheltenham, however, O’Leary has both the money and, in all likelihood, the inclination to drag them off to court, raising the stakes still higher just a few days before National Hunt’s prime meeting.

Cheltenham, meanwhile, might need to find a new sponsor for the Grade One Ryanair Chase if O’Leary, the airline’s chief executive, takes offence. It also faces the prospect of seeing its most famous fixture tainted by association, with the issue of drugs and steroids dominating coverage of what is supposed to be a showcase event for the track and for National Hunt racing as a whole.

There seems to be little chance that O’Leary, having had a few days to reflect, will decide to follow the lead of Barry Connell, who announced last week that The Tullow Tank, a leading contender for a Grade One novice hurdle at the Festival, will not run until Fenton’s court case is resolved. Both O’Leary and his brother Eddie, who acts as his racing manager, made it clear last week that in their opinion, since Fenton is presumed innocent until proven guilty, he must be allowed to carry on as normal. Attention now switches to the BHA, which has taken time to think things through and is expected to announce how it intends to proceed in the early part of this week.

In the wake of the separate Mahmood al-Zarooni and Sungate steroid doping scandals last year, the BHA’s anti-doping regime is still a work in progress. It wants to introduce more testing, both at the track and, in particular, in training yards, and is also considering how to track and regulate horses which are not actively in training at a licensed yard but are likely to join one at some point in the future. Some form of licensing for pre-training facilities – which would allow horses there to be drug-tested – may be imminent as a result.

In terms of the immediate threat of a PR catastrophe at Cheltenham, the need for action is urgent and, if the regulators truly appreciate the magnitude of the threat which anabolic steroids pose to the sport, there is really just one course of action open to them. A doctor accused of gross negligence does not continue in his practice before the case is heard by the British Medical Association and neither should a trainer found with anabolic steroids in his or her yard be allowed to saddle horses in Britain until the BHA has fully established how and why the drugs came to be there.

Steroids are the most pernicious and dangerous of all the many drugs which can be used to corrupt the integrity of racing. The BHA floated an idea last week that Fenton’s horses might be dope-tested before being allowed to compete but this insults the intelligence of any punter or racegoer who appreciates the difference between a bog-standard stimulant and an anabolic steroid.

Stimulants, as a rule, need to be administered before a race and will show up in a dope test as a result. Steroids are different. Their positive effect on an athlete’s physique and ability to absorb hard exercise can persist for weeks or even months after the drug itself has cleared the system. That is why steroids are so often the drug of choice for cheats.

The substances alleged to have been found at Fenton’s stable a little over two years ago could all be described as medicines in certain circumstances but there is simply no reason or excuse why licensed trainers should have anabolic steroids on their premises in the first place.

There is enough evidence already in the public domain to suggest that Fenton had steroids at his yard in 2012 and that alone should be sufficient to ensure the BHA refuses to accept entries or declarations from his yard until the reasons he had the drugs are fully explained – and the same goes for horses recently transferred from his yard.

The BHA’s failure to provide a credible account of the al-Zarooni scandal has been a running theme in this column for 10 months now but here is a chance to put down a marker and start afresh. The most effective weapons in the war against anabolic steroids will be constant vigilance and zero tolerance.

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Michael O’Leary ‘duty-bound’ to support his trainer Philip Fenton

• Irish trainer faces charges of possessing steroids
• Owner has ‘no reason’ to doubt his innocence

Michael O’Leary, who races one of the biggest strings of jumps horses in Ireland under the banner of his Gigginstown Stud, said on Sunday that a high-profile drugs and steroid case involving his trainer Philip Fenton is “unfortunate” so close to the Cheltenham Festival but that he feels “duty-bound” to support Fenton and has “no reason to doubt his innocence”.

Speaking after the Fenton-trained Real Steel had taken a Grade Two novice hurdle at Naas, O’Leary confirmed that the stable’s chaser Last Instalment remains an intended runner in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham on 14 March while stating that, “if it ever did come to light that any Gigginstown horse had been given any prohibited substances, we would not tolerate that”.

Fenton is expected to send at least three fancied runners to the Festival meeting next month, a few days before his next scheduled court appearance to face charges of possessing anabolic steroids and other banned substances.

“Last Instalment will run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, providing the ground is not good or faster,” O’Leary said. “He has glass legs and we wouldn’t risk him on fast ground.

“The timing of this whole episode is very unfortunate, coming so close to Cheltenham. It’s tough for Philip but we feel duty-bound to support him. Whatever substances have been found that is for Philip to deal with but there is no reason for us to doubt his innocence.”

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Pets on planes to sex toys: the year’s quirkiest business stories

Markets and Ryanair had their usual ups and downs, while Ann Summers, Apple and Asos were among the colourful reports, says Peter KimptonPeter Kimpton