Who is John McManus?

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.

Who is Nicky Henderson?

Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Henderson is the son of the late Major John ‘Johnny’ Henderson, a founder of the Racecourse Holdings Trust and, as such, credited with helping safeguard the future of Cheltenham Racecourse in the Sixties. The name of Nicky Henderson, too, is synonymous with Cheltenham, predominantly the Cheltenham Festival, where he has saddled 68 winners, making him the second most successful trainer in history, behind only perennial Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins.

Indeed, Henderson is the leading trainer in the history of both the Champion Hurdle, which he has won eight times and, jointly, alongside Tom Dreaper and Paul Nicholls, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, which he has won six times. He has also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Stayers’ Hurdle twice apiece.

Henderson has also won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship six times including, most recently, in 2019/20. The National Hunt season was brought to a premature end on March 25, as the result of the coronavirus pandemic but, at its close, Henderson had saddled 118 winners, including 15 at Graded level and, more importantly, amassed £2.53 million in total prize money; his seasonal total was £192,550 higher than his nearest rival, reigning Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls.

Henderson, who turns 70 in December, 2020, began his training career as assistant to eight-time Champion Trainer Fred Winter in 1974, before taking out a training licence in his own right four years later. He is currently based at Seven Barrows in Upper Lambourn, Berkshire, the yard to which he moved in 1992.

How many winners did Steve Smith-Eccles ride at the Cheltenham Festival?

Former National Hunt jockey Steve Smith-Eccles retired from race riding in 1994 and is best remembered for winning the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival three years running on See You Then, trained by Nicky Henderson, in 1985, 1986 and 1987. However, seven years prior to winning the two-mile championship for the first time, Smith-Eccles had already recorded his first victory at the Cheltenham Festival, when landing the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase aboard Sweet Joe, trained by Harry Thomson ‘Tom’ Jones, in 1978.

Sweet Joe suffered a career-ending injury early in the 1978/79 season, but aside from a notable hat-trick in the Champion Hurdle, Smith-Eccles also won the Triumph Hurdle twice, in 1985 and 1987, the Grand Annual Chase in 1985 and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 1986, for a career total of eight winners at the Cheltenham Festival. Six of those eight winners – First Bout (1985), See You Then (1985, 1986 and 1987) River Ceiriog (1986) and Alone Success (1987) – were trained by Nicky Henderson, at whom Smith-Eccles once threw a punch during an argument, while Alan Jarvis rowed in with Kathies Lad (1985). Indeed, the three winners Smith-Eccles rode at the 1985 Cheltenham Festival were sufficient to win him the leading jockey award for the one and only time.

Who was the last amateur jockey to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup?

The Cheltenham Gold Cup was inaugurated, as a steeplechase, in 1924 but, in the best part of a century, just four amateur jockeys have won what has become the most iillustrious prize in the British National Hunt calendar. Hugh Grosvenor did so on Thrown In in 1927, as did Richard Black on Fortina in 1947 but, since the Cheltenham Gold Cup was transferred to the New Course at Prestbury Park in 1959, just two other amateur jockeys have been led into the hallowed winners’ enclosure after the ‘Blue Riband’ event.

In 1981, Jim Wilson rode the seven-year-old Little Owl, trained by Peter Easterby, to a 1½-length victory over stablemate Night Nurse, thereby preventing him from becoming the first horse to complete the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double. Exactly three decades later, in 2011, Sam Waley-Cohen won a highly competitive renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the six-year-old Long Run, owned by his father, Robert, and trained by Nicky Henderson. Despite facing the three previous Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, in the form of Denman, Kauto Star and Imperial Commander, Long Run was sent off 7/2 favourite after comfortably winning the King George VI Chase at Kempton. The market support was justified; Long Run took the lead at the final fence and stayed on strongly to beat Kauto Star by 7 lengths, with Denman 4 lengths further beind in third place.