From humble beginnings, McManus rose to become a horse racing tycoon – at the last count, he had a net worth of €2.2 billion – with hundreds of horses in training on both sides of the Irish Sea. He became tax-resident in Switzerland in the Nineties but, while he conducts the lion's share of his currency dealing operation from Geneva, he owns Martinstown Stud in Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, which acts as his base on his frequent visits to the Emerald Isle.
McManus' racing colours, adorned in recent years by retained jockeys Sir Anthony McCoy and Barry Geraghty, were originally 'borrowed' from his cherished South Liberties Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club. Nevertheless, since he bought his first horse, Cill Dara, in 1976, his distinctive green and gold hooped silks have become synonymous with National Hunt racing in Britain and, in particular, with the Cheltenham Festival. Indeed, McManus is the most successful owner in the history of the March showpiece with 66 winners, including seven during the four-day event in 2020.
Nicknamed the 'Sundance Kid' is his early years, McManus is also one of the greatest professional gamblers of modern times. At the Cheltenham Festival, two early gambles, on Jack Of Trumps and Deep Gale in the National Hunt Chase in 1978 and 1979, respectively, went awry when both horses came to grief, but McManus finally opened his account with Mister Donovan in the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle in 1982. Trained, like Jack Of Trumps and Deep Gale, by Edward O'Grady in Co. Tipperary, Mister Donovan was, as O'Grady later fondly remembered, 'a maiden with a heart murmur'. Nevertheless, having been bought by McManus just a month before the Festival, he duly prevailed at odds of 9/2, landing bets worth £250,000 in the process and offsetting what his owner described as a 'distastrous first day'.
Down the years, McManus has been the architect of several more notable betting coups at the Cheltenham Festival.
In 2002, his unbeaten Like-A-Butterfly was sent off at prohibitive odds of 7/4 to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and had just been headed by Adamant Approach, who looked the likely winner, at the final flight; the latter parted company with his jockey, Ruby Walsh, leaving Like-A-Butterfly to pick up the pieces.
Thursday, March 16, 2006 was another red-letter day for McManus, when he won £600,000 in one hit from legendary bookmaker 'Fearless' Freddie Williams, courtesy of Reveillez in the Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase, and a further £312,500, courtesy of Kadoun in the Pertemps Final later the same afternoon.
More recently, in 2013, McManus landed another Cheltenham Festival gamble with Alderwood in the Grand Annual Handicap Chase, which, since 2009, had been the 'getting out stakes' for the week. Already a Cheltenham Festival winner, having won the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle, all out, in 2012, the nine-year-old was having just his fifth start over fences and, consequently, lined up just 1lb higher in the weights than the previous year. Backed at all odds from 6/1 to 3/1 favourite throughout the day, Alderwood took over from Kid Cassidy, also owned by McManus, at the bypassed final fence and drew away in the final hundred yards to win, comfortably, by 3¼ lengths. Kid Cassidy finished second to give McManus a 1-2 in the race, in the right order, while Alderwood chalked up win number fourteen for Irish-trained horses during the week.
Nowadays, McManus makes fewer excursions to the betting ring than was once the case and appears to be in no desperate hurry to announce a successor to Barry Geraghty, who retired in July, 2020, as his new retained rider in Britain. Nevertheless, with the likes of Epatante, Champ and Easysland, to name but three, at or towards the head of the antepost markets for their likely engagements, in the Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Cross Country Chase, respectively, at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, he has plenty to look forward to.
Author: David Dunning