Limerick-born John Patrick McManus, almost invariably known in horse racing circles as ‘J.P.’, bought Cill Dara, the first horse to carry his distinctive colours of emerald green and gold hoops, with a white kit, in 1976. Indeed, those colours, which have become so familiar throughout the world National Hunt racing, on both sides of the Irish Sea, in the last four decades or so, replicate the playing kit of South Liberties, seven-time winners of the Limerick Senior Hurling Championships.
Nowadays, McManus, 68, has a net worth of €2.1 billion and owns, quite literally, hundreds of horses in training in Britain and Ireland. Notorious as a feared, but fearless, gambler and christened the ‘Sundance Kid’ by one British journalist in his heyday, McManus registered his first victory at the Cheltenham Festival with Mister Donovan, trained by Edward O’Grady, in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 1982, reportedly collecting £250,000 in a single bet. He also reportedly relieved the late Freddy ‘Fearless’ Williams of £600,000 when Reveillez won the Jewson Novices’ Chase – now the JLT Novices’ Chase – in 2006. In recent years, McManus has curtailed his betting activity and, by his own admission, no longer feels the compulsion to ‘to have a bet on every race’, as was once the case.
However, that hasn’t stopped him racking up a total of 58 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, making him the most successful owner in the history of the March showpiece meeting by the proverbial ‘country mile’. McManus has won the Champion Hurdle eight times, with Istabraq three times, in 1998, 1999 and 2000, Binocular in 2010, Jezki in 2014 and Buveur D’Air twice, in 2017 and 2018, and Espoir d’Allen in 2019, making him the most successful owner in the history of the race. He has also won the Stayers’ Hurdle three times, with Baracouda twice, in 2002 and 2003 and More Of That in 2014, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Synchronised in 2012. Away from Prestbury Park, McManus has also won the Grand National, with Don’t Push It in 2010 and, all told, has over a hundred Grade One victories to his name.