Tag Archive for: Charlie Swan

Barry Geraghty and Charlie Swan hail JP McManus after landmark victory

The “absolute love for the game”, the “attention to detail”, the “kindness” – those glowing words used by two former jockeys to describe the JP McManus are heartfelt.

McManus notched his 4,000th winner as an owner at Cheltenham on Saturday when Chantry House scored in the Cotswold Chase for trainer Nicky Henderson.

It was fitting that the green and gold hoop colours had passed the post in a big race at the home of jumps racing carried by a horse cared for by the Seven Barrows handler.

Henderson has played a significant role in McManus’s epic tally, with the likes of Binocular, Buveur D’Air and Epatante among the stars he has trained.

Barry Geraghty has shared some momentous days with the pair and was fulsome in his praise in reaching the remarkable tally.

Geraghty, who rode at least one winner at the Cheltenham Festival every year between 2002 and 2020 before retiring, said that McManus gets involved at every level, but it is his kindness that stands out.

“I didn’t realise the figure was coming, but it is massive for an owner to have done it,” said Geraghty. “Not one horse goes past without him knowing about it.

“And the detail! He lives for the game. He just loves it – but at all levels, be it down the country during the week or at Cheltenham yesterday, it’s both things.

“He loves getting involved in the planning and he gets so much joy out of racing. He pays close attention at all levels and that’s how much he loves the game.”

Geraghty was leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival twice, in 2003 and 2012, with five winners on both occasions.

Indeed, he went agonisingly close to becoming leading jockey again in 2020, when he rode five winners for McManus only to lose out on countback to Paul Townend.

“JP is a great man, a brilliant man,” added Geraghty.

“I was probably about 19 or 20 when I first rode for him and first met him. It was brilliant. I was fortunate to meet him early in my career and my second Festival winner was for JP on Youlneverwalkalone (National Hunt Handicap Chase in 2003).

Youlneverwalkalone was a Festival scorer for McManus and Geraghty
Youlneverwalkalone was a Festival scorer for McManus and Geraghty (Haydn West/PA)

“I rode winners for JP when I was with Edward O’Grady as conditional. So, he has been very supportive all the way through my career.”

While McManus has made millions out of the money markets, which enables him to buy some of the best equines, it is his common touch and benevolence that strikes Geraghty most.

“He sent helicopters over to pick me up at Aintree when I had broken bits of my leg when I couldn’t fly back,” he added.

“It was the same when I punctured my lung at Kempton. People don’t get the see the kindness he shows.

“I mentioned in my book how I was in hospital at Kempton when I broke eight ribs and punctured my lung, JP arrived the following day with bags of pyjamas and all kinds of essentials, which no-one had thought of – but which he and Noreen had thought of – and chocolates for the nurses to keep me in favour.

“There is no fanfare. He shows such kindness. He is just a very kind man.”

The highlights have been many for the 42-year-old, who is now a regular broadcaster and responsible for spotting talent such as Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill.

Buveur D’Air gave Nicky Henderson (left), JP McManus and Barry Geraghty victory in 2018 Champion Hurdle
Buveur D’Air gave Nicky Henderson (left), JP McManus and Barry Geraghty victory in 2018 Champion Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

Geraghty remembered: “We have had some great times. Buveur D’Air and Epatante both won Champion Hurdles and even going back to the early days I won good novice chases on Le Coudray and Youlneverwalkalone at Cheltenham.

“There was Mini Sensation for Jonjo O’Neill (who won a Welsh National) and horses in recent years like Champ and Defi Du Seuil were just brilliant horses.”

Geraghty replaced Sir Anthony McCoy as McManus’s retained jockey in 2015 and enjoyed plenty of halcyon days thereafter.

“He offered me a wonderful opportunity. I had done much of my racing in England and I’d longed to ride good horses in Ireland as well.

“I had brilliant days with Nicky in Ireland, with Sprinter Sacre at Punchestown and Bobs Worth at Leopardstown, but I wanted to get back to Ireland on Sundays and have good horses to ride here.

“I was leading rider at Punchestown for the first time when I was riding in my first season for JP, which was brilliant.

McManus and Geraghty enjoyed Punchestown success with Carlingford Lough
McManus and Geraghty enjoyed Punchestown success with Carlingford Lough (Niall Carson/PA)

“Carlingford Lough won the Gold Cup and came from the next parish – they were just brilliant days. We won good handicaps and Minella View won the Paddy Power, and it offered me something I was after and the timing was great. Not being away from the family so much was great for all of us.

“We have shared some wonderful days and it is brilliant to see JP reach such a massive total and landmark like this. I shall always be grateful to him.”

Charlie Swan, twice top jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, and champion jockey in Ireland for nine consecutive years, will forever be remembered for his partnership with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Istabraq, who landed three of McManus’s tally of nine Champion Hurdles.

Having retired from riding and training, Swan now buys horses in France for McManus.

Charlie Swan and Istabraq were a match made in heaven
Charlie Swan and Istabraq were a match made in heaven (Chris Bacon/PA)

He said: “I do a bit for him in France and I really enjoy it. It’s great to have that association and I’ve known him for a long time now. He is a great man.

“It is amazing to have 100 winners, let alone 4,000. JP’s love for the game is incredible. The whole family – his wife Noreen, his children – they are all involved and that’s what makes it so brilliant.”

Istabraq will always hold a place in his heart. Swan rode him in all 29 races over hurdles.

“Istabraq was so quick, he was just such a natural jumper. You don’t usually get that when they start out. He was like a motorbike going over a ramp and landing on the back wheel. Istabraq’s hindlegs would often touch down first, before his forelegs.

“He was just different. He just loved it, he would quicken up when he saw a hurdle.”

He was the fifth horse to win the Champion Hurdle three times, yet none had completed the four-timer and he was denied the chance of a fourth when foot and mouth disease prevented the Festival meeting from taking place in 2001.

JP McManus (left), Charlie Swan and trainer Aidan O’Brien (right) celebrate Istabraq's 2000 Champion Hurdle success (David Jones/PA)
JP McManus (left), Charlie Swan and trainer Aidan O’Brien (right) celebrate Istabraq’s 2000 Champion Hurdle success (David Jones/PA)

A year later, he jumped two flights and pulled up with a tendon injury.

“He was a special horse,” said Swan. “I rode some other good horses for JP, like Time For a Run in the Coral Cup and Mucklemeg who won the Festival bumper (1994) – she was very, very good.

“It was just unfortunate that she got injured and broke her pelvis as a novice hurdler. She could have been one of the best I rode.

“JP really started to get going after that and got bigger and bigger. But most of all, while it is a great achievement, he is a very kind, down to earth man.”

Charlie Swan hails ‘great man’ Tom Foley

Charlie Swan has paid tribute to Danoli’s trainer Tom Foley following his death at the age of 74.

Foley sprang to prominence in the 1990s when Danoli appeared on the scene, winning each of his three bumper starts before embarking on a hurdles career.

Christened ‘the people’s champion’, Danoli went to the 1994 Cheltenham Festival with the tag of the Irish banker in the SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle – now known as the Ballymore – and he delivered in style.

Swan was on board on that occasion, as he had been for an earlier win in the Deloitte and Touche Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown, and the roar that accompanied him up the Cheltenham hill and back to the paddock has rarely been repeated.

“Danoli really caught the imagination of the racing public,” said Swan.

“Tom was a great man. All the time I was riding Danoli we never had one crossed word. He was just a complete gentleman.

“He was a very quiet man, but he could get excited when Danoli was running! He was such a lovely man.

“People always take to the smaller trainers taking on the big guys and he really knew his horse.”

Swan went on to win the Aintree Hurdle twice on Danoli, as well as the Morgiana and Hatton’s Grace, also finishing third in the Champion Hurdle before Tommy Treacy took over in the saddle.

Injury prevented Danoli from perhaps reaching the heights which once looked likely, but he did win the 1997 Irish Hennessy.

“He hardly ran a bad race, it was amazing how consistent he was and Tom was a very capable horseman,” said Swan.

“They were great days with him, he won the Aintree Hurdle twice and the second time he broke down, otherwise the sky was the limit for him. He still won a Hennessy after that which was amazing.”

Foley’s last winner was Rebel Gold at Gowran on January 28.

‘Complete natural’ Istabraq was peerless in four Irish Champion Hurdles

Even in these strange times, with days seemingly merging into one, it is hard to believe it is 20 years since the mighty Istabraq landed the last of his four Irish Champion Hurdle victories.

Trained by Aidan O’Brien and famously partnered by Charlie Swan, Istabraq made the Leopardstown feature his own between 1998 and 2001, helping to secure his place as a true icon of the hurdling division.

Across the Irish Sea, Istabraq was equally prolific – taking three successive Champion Hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival from 1998 to 2000, with the cancellation of the meeting in 2001 because of foot and mouth disease almost certainly robbing him of a fourth Cotswolds crown.

Istabraq, ridden by Charlie Swan, clears the last to win the 2001 Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown
Istabraq, ridden by Charlie Swan, clears the last to win the 2001 Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown (Chris Bacon/PA)

The son of Sadler’s Wells was rated 176 at his peak and amassed more than £1million in prize-money, having won 23 of his 29 hurdle starts – 20 of them at graded level.

Istabraq was initially campaigned on the Flat by John Gosden and was intended to begin his jumping career under the guidance of the Newmarket trainer’s assistant, John Durkan.

The horse was then transferred to O’Brien’s yard following the untimely death of Durkan, who had been diagnosed with leukaemia and after whom the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase is named.

Swan first took the mount in 1996, and from then on was the only jockey to ride the JP McManus-owned bay on the racecourse.

“He was fantastic – when you’re riding such a good horse it’s brilliant,” he said.

“He was always rock-solid, and Aidan always had him in tip-top shape.”

Charlie Swan, aboard Istabraq, celebrating their third consecutive Champion Hurdle victory at Cheltenham
Charlie Swan, aboard Istabraq, celebrating their third consecutive Champion Hurdle victory at Cheltenham (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Swan was able to develop a bond with Istabraq, honed on the schooling grounds, as the jockey almost exclusively undertook the gelding’s jumping sessions at home.

“It was probably a help,” he said of their long-standing partnership.

“At the same time I was just fortunate that any time I was injured or suspended, it just happened to be that he wasn’t running at the time.

“I never missed a ride on him, which was great. I was the only one who really schooled him – except I think my wife might have ridden him when Timmy Hyde bought him.

“Otherwise I’m the only one that ever schooled him – I was fortunate that way.”

Charlie Swan and Istabraq winning the Royal Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham
Charlie Swan and Istabraq winning the Royal Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Swan recounted how seamlessly the horse took to hurdling after his Flat career, describing how the duo bounced back from a narrow loss on their first run for O’Brien to take the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle just a fortnight later.

“From the first day we schooled him, he was just a complete natural,” he said.

“The first day he ran I probably should have won on him, but I didn’t – I probably gave him a bit too much to do.

“He won a Grade One two weeks later, so I must have given him an all right ride then!”

The jockey, whose record of six Irish Champion Hurdle wins has been matched only by Ruby Walsh, cites Istabraq’s fluent and economical jumping as his greatest asset.

“His jumping was his big thing,” he said.

“He was quick, very quick.

Champion Hurdle winner Charlie Swan with the victorious connections of Istabraq, owner J.P McManus (left) and trainer Aidan O’Brien (right)
Champion Hurdle winner Charlie Swan with the victorious connections of Istabraq, owner J.P McManus (left) and trainer Aidan O’Brien (right) (David Jones/PA)

“He never landed in a heap, he always landed running.

“He never went up and down, he went sort of across, really. He nearly landed with the hind legs down first, which is the sign of a good hurdler.”

The only horse to better Istabraq’s record in the Irish Champion Hurdle thus far has been Willie Mullins’ Hurricane Fly, unbeaten in the Leopardstown contest for five successive years between 2011-2015.

Swan pointed out the difficulties in comparing remarkable horses from different eras, but agrees it was probably beneficial to both sets of connections that the two champions did not coincide.

“With the two generations, it’s always hard to judge them,” he said.

“I’m sure they were glad my horse wasn’t around – and I’m glad he (Hurricane Fly) wasn’t around!”

Charlie Swan dismounts/jubilant
Charlie Swan dismounts from Istabraq after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham (David Jones/PA)

Istabraq officially turned 29 on New Year’s Day – and since his career ended, he has been enjoying a leisurely retirement at his owner’s Limerick home, Martinstown Stud.

“He’s in great form, he’s at Martinstown – JP’s place,” said Swan.

“He goes on the walker every morning, and then the lads let him out. He goes out in the field for a bit and then he comes back in at night.

“He’s very well looked after.”

Swan is still associated with McManus, sourcing many of the horses that run in his famous green and gold hoops, and thus hopes County Hurdle winner Saint Roi will return to form for his owner in Saturday’s running of the Irish Champion.

“It’s going to be interesting this year,” he said.

Saint Roi after winning the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle during day four of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival
Saint Roi after winning the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle during day four of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival (Simon Cooper/PA)

“It’s going to be a very good race and it looks wide open again, with Saldier and Honeysuckle.

“Obviously we hope Saint Roi wins, but he was a bit disappointing the last time. Hopefully he can overcome that if he reproduces his run at Cheltenham last year.

“If he came back to that sort of form, he might have a good chance, but he wants a bit of better ground.

“We’ve had a lot of rain here, so I’m sure the ground is going to be quite testing.”