I first met JP McManus at Martinstown Stud as a 16 year old student. I had the ambition of pursuing a career in sports journalism, so seeing the 063 area code flash up on my phone as I sat in double biology class was enough for me to bolt out the door like an eager two year old breaking from the stalls at Dundalk Stadium on a Friday night.
I arranged to head down to Kilmallock the next day. It was a Tuesday in early February, just a number of weeks prior to the Cheltenham Festival. On that day I was shown one of McManus’s greatest ever horses, Istabraq, who has retired to the plush surrounds of Martinstown.
I once again caught up with Mr McManus at Thurles Racecourse last Thursday and the Kilmallock man was happy to report that the three time Champion Hurdle winner is in good order, “He’s great, he is 25 years now but he’s still looking well”.
Another of those under the McManus banner that is in good order is the Jessica Harrington trained, Close Shave, who stayed on gamely under Barry Geraghty to claim the second race on the card at the Tipperary venue.
With the jump season now going up through the gears, owners and trainers alike will share a common goal – to grace the winner’s enclosure at the Cheltenham Festival. As one of racings most decorated owners, doing so is not a new occurrence for McManus who secured his 50th Cheltenham Festival winner in March when Buveur D’air led home a McManus one-two having seen off the spirited challenge of his Seven Barrows stable mate, My Tent or Yours.
It represented Mr McManus’s sixth Champion Hurdle triumph, however it is clear from talking to him that the taste of victory, particularly on the hallow turf of Prestbury Park of National Hunt racing is not one his getting tired of in the slightest.
“We have had many great days in Cheltenham, a lot of them for different reasons. Your first winner is always one that stands out – Mr Donovan, and Istabraq of course, but every one of them is important. Any time you win that Champion Hurdle is special.”
An essential element of ensuring a horse reaches its full potential is placing them in the correct races and so, I was curious given the volume of horses listed in the McManus owner’s manual if it was he or the respective trainers that made the call regarding the races a particular horse would contest.
To this he tells me, “I leave it to the lads, the trainers”.
When questioned whether the long term plan for each horse is a deciding factor in assigning horse to trainer, “We have no hard and fast rules to be honest” is his reply.
There was no hard and fast plan to become a race horse owner either he tells me.
“I just grew into it, the first horse I owned was a mare called Cill Dara, I bought her in 1976. She had won the Cesarewitch in 1975 and was on sale at Goffs. I bought her and she went on the win it again the next year. She was the Dam of Gimme Five who ran well in the National and won a few decent races.”
Since we last spoke, the retirement of twenty time Champion jockey, Sir Anthony McCoy left a vacancy for the position of retained rider to the McManus operation. After much speculation, Meath native, Barry Geraghty was intrusted with assuming the position.
It was the McManus owned Mountain Tunes that provided McCoy with his 4,000th career win on a Thursday in November 2013.
Rather fittingly given the pairs longstanding relationship, the Green and Gold hooped silks – the colours of McManus’s local GAA club, South Liberties will forever be associated with one of the most momentous occasions in racing history.
As for having a retained rider and the advantages associated with it – he tells me it’s not something he has given much thought to but acknowledges it does have its advantages.
“I’ve never really thought about it, you’ve a lot of very able men around now that are well capable of doing the job. It’s nice to have your own jockey I suppose, you know he’s always available to you.
“I’m sure it helps – the more he knows about the animal the better.”
For a man who tells me he views racing not as an industry but as a hobby, the beginning of a new National Hunt Season brings with it much excitement.
Similarly, the re-opening of the newly refurbished Adare Manor which he purchased in 2015 is another event that he has to look forward to.
“You’d hope it works out, the building is there anyway so fingers crossed,” he said.
The Hotel & Golf Resort is set to open its doors this Thursday, November 2.