Few racing owners are as revered as JP McManus when it comes to a willingness to put down money behind their Cheltenham Festival hopefuls.
The hugely successful Irishman has long been a thorn in the side of bookmakers and, in stories that are ingrained in Cheltenham folklore, McManus has struck fear into the hearts of those on the rails with their satchels. What of McManus in 2017 then, will we be hearing tales of large sums changing hands when the action gets underway? The form book strongly suggests he will be in the winner’s enclosure and he looks to hold obvious claims of being the leading owner at the festival.
Two of the standout McManus contenders in the Cheltenham Festival betting are set to line up in the key Championship races over hurdles, the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle. He has won both races before, including the double in 2014, and he might just do it again this time around.
The Champion Hurdle dominates day one of the festival – and McManus dominates the Champion Hurdle. Over the years he has scored a record five wins in the two-mile contest, with the likes of Istabraq, Binocular and Jezki all obliging. This year, McManus is going to be mob-handed with Yanworth, Buveur D’Air, Brain Power and My Tent Or Yours all scheduled to line up on Tuesday.
It is the first-named that makes the most appeal as the winner of the race. Trained by Alan King, Yanworth met the only defeat of his eight-race hurdling career in the Neptune at the festival 12 months ago. Then, Barry Geraghty perhaps overestimated the situation as he gave up vital ground to Ruby Walsh and Yorkhill at a crucial stage, leaving Yanworth with too much to do as he finished second. He’s won three times since, including the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. His critics will question his jumping technique but previous winner Faugheen has surely dispelled the notion that a Champion Hurdler must be foot-perfect to win. Yanworth has done little wrong this term and really ought to be suited by this return to Cheltenham where his undoubted stamina could prove the deciding factor in the Champion Hurdle.
On to Thursday and McManus holds outstanding claims of Stayers’ Hurdle success with Unowhatimeanharry. Winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle last year at the festival, Harry Fry’s charge was snapped up soon after by McManus and this race would have been the long-term target that was behind the purchase.
Unowhatimeanharry has been a model of consistency this season and will pitch up at Cheltenham having won all the right races he has contested since joining Fry’s team. Along the road to the festival, he has won each of the key three-mile hurdles contests and, on more than one occasion, jockey Barry Geraghty has revealed his belief that the horse does just what is required to win and may still be holding a bit in reserve. With Geraghty out injured, an able deputy has been secured in Noel Fehily for Cheltenham, the Cork rider having won all four races he’s contested on Unowhatimeanharry, a sequence that culminated with festival success last March. The Stayers’ Hurdle has shown bias towards favourites in recent times, with four winners from the previous seven having gone off shortest in the betting. Unowhatimeanharry looks up to the task of enhancing that record and, should he do so, he might find himself completing another McManus Champion Hurdle/Stayers’ Hurdle double in the process.