JP McManus – From Bookmaker To Leading Owner
He is probably the most famous owner in jumps racing, but did you know that JP McManus was once an on-course bookmaker making his living from taking bets on races he would go on to win in later years?
Irishman, McManus, has enjoyed over 4000 winners as an owner throughout the years in Britain, Ireland, and even France, and his love of the sport shows no sign of waning as he continues to purchase some of the most exciting equine prospects.
Where It All Began
McManus was involved in the gambling side of horse racing from an early age and was known to have enjoyed success on both sides of the betting ring, both as a bookmaker and as a bettor. Using this success, he would become a very successful entrepreneur, and create a portfolio of businesses that would earn him enough money to become a huge part of jump racing.
Despite all of this success, his first foray into ownership came about his family gave him a racehorse gift voucher, just like the horse-themed gifts available with RaceShare. From this early leg up into being an owner, McManus became obsessed with being involved in racing, and quickly grew his own group of horses which he sent into training with some of the sport’s most successful trainers.
Throughout his many years of owning horses, McManus has been lucky enough to have come across some of the greatest jump-racing horses of all time. Below are just some of the equine superstars that have carried his famous green and gold colors.
Probably the most famous of McManus’ horses is the legendary, Istabraq. Originally a flat racing performer owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, Istabraq was snapped up by McManus in 1996 and sent to the up-and-coming Irish trainer of the time, Aidan O’Brien, to race over jumps.
It would prove to be yet another masterstroke by the owner, as Istabraq eventually went on to win 23 of his 29 races over hurdles, etching his name into racing folklore, particularly amongst Irish fans who hailed him as their hero.
Istabraq became synonymous with the Cheltenham Festival, and in particular, the coveted Champion Hurdle race in the late nineties. He became the first horse to win the race in three successive years from 1998 to 2000, having previously won what was then called the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival in 1997.
Not content with that, Istabraq also won four Irish Champion Hurdles in a row from 1998 to 2001. He was a legendary racehorse who, at one time, seemed unbeatable over hurdles.
After his racing career was over, he moved to McManus’s home in Martinstown to enjoy a happy and well-earned retirement.
Don’t Push It
Don’t Push It was the horse involved in one of the most memorable stories of McManus’ racing life. Incredibly, for all of the success that the owner enjoyed, one race continued to elude him, the Grand National.
The richest jumps race in Europe is one that all trainers, jockeys, and owners strive to win, but McManus was made to wait until 2010 to add the accolade to his list of major wins.
Another racing legend that seemed to have a hoodoo hanging over him when it came to the Grand National was one of the greatest ever jockeys and McManus’ retained rider, AP McCoy.
“Champion Jockey A.P. McCoy” (CC BY 2.0) by Paolo Camera
It was fitting that it was McCoy that steered Don’t Push It to Grand National glory, and the emotion shown by both jockey and owner in the aftermath showed what it meant to finally land the Aintree showpiece.
McManus would have to wait another 11 years to win his second National, this time being involved in another history-making moment in racing as Minella Times helped Rachael Blackmore to become the first lady rider to win the race.
Another race to have illuded McManus for the early part of his racing life was the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He would be made to wait even longer than he did for his Grand National success to finally land the Cheltenham highlight, with Synchronised finally realizing the dream in 2010.
Again it was McCoy on board McManus’ winner, yet another famous victory for the dynamic duo. Unfortunately for the pair, and the racing world as a whole, Synchronised suffered a fatal injury in the following month’s Grand National, leaving his owner in floods of tears.
The most recent horse to give McManus massive success at the highest level was Buveur D’Air. The horse had an unusual early part of his career. A Grade 1 winner over hurdles as a novice, the decision was made to send the youngster over the larger fences for his second season.
As with a lot of things in racing, plans change, and Buveur D’Air reverted to hurdling despite having won his two starts over the larger obstacles. It proved to be a masterstroke by McManus and his trainer, Nicky Henderson, as the horse would be responsible for bringing his owner back into the Champion Hurdle limelight.
Buveur D’Air won back-to-back races in 2017 and 2018, and McManus would continue his love affair with the race when Espoir d’Allen won the following year. Epatante, gave him yet another win in the biggest hurdle race of the season in 2020, making it five times in a row that the owner would capture the prize.
What Does The Future Hold For McManus?
McManus’ history in the world of horse racing ownership is well documented but he still retains the love for the sport that has served him so well in the past. This season he will go into the Cheltenham Festival with a strong team of horses that all have live chances.
Chief among them is the new kid on the chasing block, Jonbon. Also trained by Nicky Henderson, Jonbon is the new apple of McManus’ eye, and he is currently the favorite in the betting market for the Arkle Chase.
Old favorite, Epatante, is also set to line up at the Festival once again, whilst Fakir D’oudaries and Comfort Zone also hold strong claims for the legendary owner.