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Football and racing: a joint future?

02-December-2022 15:03
in General
by Peter McNeile

Most sportmen are enthusiasts for sport at large, even when their proficiency is limited to just one discipline. The admiration of athletes for others at the top of their game is an age-old trait and one to foster. But there are some sports which foster links more naturally with each other. Racing and football seem just one example.

The UK's two most televised sports enjoy joint audiences and share commonalities. There is little doubt that racecourse audiences benefit from the 2 months of the close season, where football crowds, denied a matchday experience, spread their wings to the racecourse environment. 

But equally, some of football's most prominent personalities have been found frequenting the racecourse, bringing them into view of photographers and broader media seeking to promote the style and energy behind a day's racing. This may have something to do with racing filling the gap where morning training has finished mid week, or that its betting appeal is an easy route to spending some of their significant earnings, or merely that the speed of the thoroughbred appeals to those strikers whose turn of foot is what marks them apart from their rivals. 

The best known example currently is none other than Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United from 1986 - 2013. During that extended tenure, he won 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles, 5 F A Cups and 2 European Cups, latterly the Champions League. Ferguson came into contact with John Magnier, the Coolmore bloodstock tycoon, and J P McManus when the pair were shareholders in Manchester Utd in the pre-Glazer era. 

That friendship came spectacularly unstuck after Ferguson took out a lawsuit over the ownership of Group I winning colt Rock of Gibraltar, winner of 7 Group 1s during his stellar career, and seemingly, the gift of 50% of the horse from the Irish billionaire pair. When the horse retired to stud, Magnier, not one to hold back on protecting his bloodstock assets, closed ranks to exclude Ferguson. The suit was settled out of court. 

Meantime, Ferguson's interest in the sport has been maintained. His most recent partenership with Paul Barber and Ged Mason around Clan des Obeaux won them a string of races, not least a memorable King George VI Chase at Kempton in 2019, a Gold Cup at Punchestown and two consecutive Betway Bowls at Aintree, the most recent this year. 

Top class footballer Mick Channon played for Southampton, Manchester City and Norwich in a career spanning the seventies and eighties. But his first love had always been racing, and on retirement he launched a career as a trainer, initially from Dick Hern's old yard at West Ilsley. The switch proved an almost immediate success. Channon handed over the reins to his son earlier this autumn, 33 years after switching career, and with over 2,600 winners to his name in the UK, Ireland and internationally. All bar 100 or so were Flat winners, the best of which was Youzmain, second in three Arcs. 

If Mick Channon can readily be considered a member of the establishment, thirty years his junior, the 40 year old Michael Owen has gone still further. Elected to the Jockey Club in December 2021 for his contribution to the sport, his Manor Park stable in Cheshire was a successful partnership with Tom Dascombe until the pair parted company earlier this year. Among other horses, the Group I winner Black Panther really put Owen on the map in a different park to the familair red of Liverpool at Anfield. 

The racing connections are not limited to the UK through. Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos owns a stud outside Seville albeit not for thoroughbreds, whilst Wayne Rooney, German international Thomas Muller, QPR's Charlie Austin and Robbie Fowler are just some of the names that have lent their support to the sport. 

Is Frank a potential racehorse owner?

Given the popularity of football, where at least 8 leagues support the pyramid of excellence the summit of which is the Premiership, any self-respecting trainer could do worse than foster links with his local club. The likes of Lampard, Pickford, Henderson or Grealish could be nurtured to invest in the sport by those around them. 

It's what's called kicking the ball upfield. 

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