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).
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”