he former owner of Manchester United is shaping up nicely for a shot at one of the most lucrative races at the Cheltenham Festival in March. J.P. McManus, who between 2001 and 2004 pumped more than £200 million into the club along with friend and business partner John Magnier, will run Epatante in the Champion Hurdle on the opening day of the meeting.
He is a prolific racehorse owner that has enjoyed more than 50 winners at the Festival – contributing to a net worth that is said to be over the £2 billion mark, and he would love to kick off the 2021 edition with a win courtesy of the Nicky Henderson trained mare. Epatante will be the defending champion in the race having won in hugely impressive fashion nearly a year ago, romping home by three lengths ahead of Sharjah to secure a handsome 2/1 payday for backers.
However, a crushing defeat in the Christmas Hurdle as a heavy odds-on favourite has turned punters off the seven-year-old’s chances for a repeat, and instead Honeysuckle has been installed as the bookmakers’ choice in the latest Champion Hurdle odds.
The Irish raider is yet to be beaten in ten starts – including victory in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival in 2020, and a strong showing in the Irish Champion Hurdle, where she won by ten lengths, is an indicator of the size of the task facing Epatante.
But McManus’ horses have a fine record in this race, with Jezki, Buveur d’Air and Espoir d’Allen all triumphing in the Champion Hurdle in recent times, and the man inextricably linked to Manchester will be hoping for a repeat success in 2021.
A Rocky Patch
At the turn of the new millennium, McManus and Magnier owned more than 25% of Manchester United, and their investment in the club coincided with two Premier League titles and an FA Cup triumph.
They became involved in the Red Devils thanks to their mutual friend Sir Alex Ferguson, who, of course, was the manager of United at the time. Ferguson is a fan of horse racing as well, and through McManus he began owning a share in a number of horses – most notably the outstanding Rock of Gibraltar, a former European Horse of the Year winner who prevailed in the 2,000 Guineas, the St James’ Palace Stakes and the Prix du Moulin.
However, it would also be this horse that drove an almighty wedge between Ferguson and McManus because at the end of his career a huge disagreement broke out as to who owned the horse’s stud rights.
In the end, the matter was settled privately out of court, but the dispute was so deep and damaging that McManus and Magnier sold their stakes in Manchester United for a handy £100 million profit to American businessman Malcom Glazer – he remains one of the most divisive figures in the history of the club.
To that end, Manchester is inextricably linked to horse racing and the Cheltenham Festival, and J.P. McManus will be hoping that the meeting holds another fairytale ending for his prized asset in the Champion Hurdle.