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JP McManus

It may surprise you to know that the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am – the event that is currently dominating the mid-western landscape, although if Limerick had beaten Kerry in the Munster Final on Sunday (and they nearly did) it may have had competition – happens just once every five years. Less often, even, than England under-achieve in the World Cup. Hands up who thought it was an annual event? (The Pro-Am, that is.)

Other things that you may not have known about the tournament: it has raised €55 million for charities based in the mid-west since its inauguration in 1990, €1.2 million in 1990 when times were tough and €4 million in 1995, leaping to €19.8 million in 2000 and to €31 million in 2005. Some €6 million went to the Mid-Western Hospital Developments Trust in 2005, €2 million to the Parkinson’s Association of Ireland, €1.5 million to Limerick Youth Service, €1.3 million to the Brothers of Charity, €1 million to the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, and so on. It’s all good stuff. 56 charities have benefited.

It is a celebrity-studded event this year. Samuel L. Jackson and Hugh Grant and Michael Douglas are in town, as are Aidan Quinn and Niall Quinn (not related), and Harry Redknapp and Jamie Redknapp (related), as well as some guy called Westlife.

Roger Chapman and Neil Hanson won it in 1990, and Paul Broadhurst and Richard Bloxhall won it in 1995, before Tiger Woods came along and provided a PR springboard for the event by winning it in 2000, while Padraig Harrington bounced it even higher in 2005. The top golfers give up their time willingly to play in it, such is the reputation of the event. Indeed, more than that, the ones who don’t play in it apparently wonder how they can get an invitation.

When JP McManus had a bob each-way on the 25/1 shot Orchardist in the 1962 Cesarewitch in Alf Hogan’s betting shop in Limerick (first past the post, disqualified and placed second, the place part of the bet was no consolation), he could never have thought that he would be hosting multi-million euro charity events a quarter of a century later. The astuteness of his betting brain and his sharpness with figures is a given, but the fact that he has been able to attract a Who’s Who from the world of sport and film to Adare this week speaks volumes for his character.

McManus is defined by subtlety and nuance, master of the under-statement. He is the softly-spoken presence that is most-noted, the silent patron of a multitude of just causes. Not only does he not solicit recognition, he actively discourages it. All of his efforts in hosting this week’s event – and the efforts of the volunteering participants – are without financial reward. Every single penny raised goes to the designated charities.

As such, McManus is widely respected in racing, not just among the upper echelons, the people who watch racing from the fifth floor with a glass of champagne close by, but among those who watch racing from the ground as well, clutching a betting ticket, and at every level in between. Racehorse owners and punters are generally at opposite ends of the racing spectrum, north and south poles. Among the factions that scramble to influence Racing Inc policy, punters and owners will frequently find themselves at opposite ends of the divide.

McManus is different. When Don’t Push It won the Grand National last April, providing his rider, trainer and owner with their respective maiden victories in the most famous horse race in the world, the general depth of feeling for the owner among people who follow racing was almost on a par with the general sense of relief that prevailed because AP McCoy had finally won one.

It is difficult to explain away the regard in which McManus is held by racing enthusiasts. It is difficult to think of another owner who would be or who has been as widely acclaimed. Perhaps it is because he was and is a punter, because he has seen it from every level. He has watched racing from the ground, from a dusty betting shop floor and from a bookmaker’s milk crate as well as from the owners’ balcony. Perhaps it is that, when he speaks, his knowledge of and passion for the sport is apparent in every syllable that crosses his lips. Or perhaps it is because you know, whatever his involvement in or vision for racing is, that it is for the good of the game.

Certainly, you cannot underestimate the magnitude of McManus’s contribution to racing. Last season, he had 605 runners in the UK and 507 in Ireland. To put that into context, the owner with the next highest number of runners in the UK was Graham Wylie with 292, in Ireland it was Gigginstown House with 318, followed by Barry Connell with 83. No fewer than 39 trainers saddled horses that were owned by McManus in Ireland last season, while 37 trainers did so in the UK.

Racehorse ownership in Ireland and the UK is an expensive business. On average, you can expect to get about 20% of your investment back. Financial gain cannot be the objective.

For JP McManus these days, it rarely is.

© The Racing Post, 6th July 2010