John Patrick McManus, almost invariably known in racing circles as ‘J.P.’, is an Irish billionaire, best known as the largest owner in National Hunt racing. At the last count, McManus had over 550 horses in training; in the 2019/20 National Hunt season, his familiar green and gold colours – ‘borrowed’ from his home Gaelic Athletic Association club, South Liberties – were carried to victory 79 times, earning £2.14 million in prize money and making him Champion Jumps Owner in Britain by £1.39 million.
His biggest single earner in 2019/20 was Epatante, trained by Nicky Henderson, who collected £79,467 for winning the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Indeed, McManus is the leading owner in the history of the two-mile hurdling championship with nine winners, including the last four – namely Buveur D’Air in 2017 and 2018, Espoir d’Allen in 2019 and Epatante in 2020 – and a notable hat-trick by Istabraq in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
In fact, McManus is, far and away, the leading owner in the history of the Cheltenham Festival as a whole, with 66 winners. Of the main ‘championship’ races, aside from the Champion Hurdle, he has won the Stayers’ Hurdle three times, with Baracouda in 2002 and 2003 and More Of That in 2014, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup once, with Synchronised in 2012. He also famously won the Grand National with Don’t Push It – the one and only winner of the celebrated steeplechase for Tony McCoy – in 2010.
The simple answer is yes, they are. Oisin Murphy, who became British Champion Jockey for the first time in 2019 is, in fact, the nephew of Jim Culloty, best known as the jockey of three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Best Mate and Grand National winner Bindaree.
Raised in Killarney, County Kerry, in southwestern Ireland, Murphy originally harboured an ambition to become a showjumper. However, at the age of 14 he began riding in unsanctioned horse races, colloquially known as ‘flappers’, contested by bona fide racehorses, but ridden by children. By his own admission, race riding did not come naturally to the young Murphy and, on reviewing the races in which he had ridden, alongside his uncle, was often reduced to tears by the pitiless criticism of his riding ability.
Nevertheless, Murphy perservered as a jockey and, in 2013, became apprenticed to Andrew Balding at Park House Stables in Kingsclere, near Newbury, Berkshire. That September, Murphy hit the headlines by riding a 9,260/1 four-timer on Ayr Gold Cup Day, including the winner of the Ayr Gold Cup itself, Highland Colori. In 2016, Murphy succeeded Andrea Atzeni as the only jockey retained by Qatar Racing and it is in the familiar claret with gold braid colours that he has enjoyed his finisest moments. Indeed, it was in those colours that he rode his first Group One winner, Roaring Lion, in the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown Park in July, 2018.
In the absence of an objective measure of the abilities of racehorses from different generations, any discussion of the ‘greatest’ racehorses of all time is inevitably highly subjective. According to Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings World, formerly Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings, which began in 1977, Frankel, who retired, unbeaten, in October, 2012, is the highest-rated horse in the history of official classifications. Even so, Frankel only achieved that position after a controversial ‘recalibration’ of the ratings, which saw Dancing Brave, winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1986, downgraded by 3lb.
Timeform agrees that Frankel is the highest-rated horse, on the Flat, at least, since its first ‘Racehorses’ annual, published in 1948, 2lb superior to Sea Bird, winner of the Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1965 and fully 7lb superior to Dancing Brave. Timeform also has Arkle, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1964, 1965 and 1966 at the head of its all-time list of steeplechasers; his rating of 212 is 20lb superior to any steeplechaser, bar stable companion Flyingbolt, in over five decades. According to Timeform, Brigadier Gerard, who tasted defeat just once in his eighteen-race career in the early Seventies, is rated 3lb inferior to Frankel, but must be considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time. So, too, must Eclipse, who won all eighteen starts between April, 1764 and February, 1789 without being asked a serious question.
David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson, born on March 19, 1939, was the son of champion jockey Herbert ‘Frenchie’ Nicholson and, although he was never champion jockey himself, rode 583 winners, including Mill House in the 1967 Whitbread Gold Cup, now the Bet365 Gold Cup. Nicholson was known for his forthright attitude, bordering on arrogance, which led to him being nicknamed ‘The Duke’ from an early age, when apprenticed to his father.
Following his retirement from the saddle in April, 1974, Nicholson went on to become an even better trainer than he had been a jockey. All told, in a 31-year career, he saddled a total of 1,499 winners and won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship twice, in 1993/94 and 1994/95, making him the only trainer other than Martin Pipe to win the trainers’ title between 1988/89 and 2004/05. Notable winners included Charter Party in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1988 and Viking Flagship in back-to-back renewals of the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1994 and 1995.
Nicholson, who died of a heart attack on August 27, 2006, is commemorated by the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle – known, for sponsorship purposes, as the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle and formerly as the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle – at the Cheltenham Festival, which was inaugurated in 2008 and is, nowadays, a Grade One contest.