Is a long range McManus double on the cards?

Filed on 17 Oct 2008 @ 12:46

Is a long range McManus double on the cards?

By Ian Carnaby

It is a fair bet that J P McManus does not know exactly how many horses he owns around Europe. A conservative estimate might put the total at around 300, but there are probably more. For sure, he employs any number of trainers, especially in Ireland, and the familiar yellow and green hoops are in evidence almost every day when the NH season ‘proper’ starts around now.

There used to be mileage for journalists in ‘JP’s Cheltenham Festival betting record - £165,000 down after day one, £224,000 after day two, £45,000 up overall after day three, especially if he landed one of the valuable handicap hurdles. Lord only knows what the figures are now, when the extravaganza lasts four days. The whole point is, the sums themselves are relatively unimportant (to him, if not to us) because he is a multi-millionaire tax exile who has made so much on the foreign exchange markets - leaving aside the present difficulties - that racing is a hobby. A thoroughly researched, meticulously planned betting hobby, but a hobby nonetheless.

McManus has excellent chances in the Grand National and Champion Hurdle

It is probable that what truly motivates McManus these days is the possibility of winning the most prestigious prizes over jumps. And that is what makes this coming season so interesting, because he has excellent chances in a number of big races, including the Grand National and the Champion Hurdle.

While researching a magazine article the other day, I dipped into the ante-post market on the 2009 Aintree spectacular. You would not expect much activity at this stage but Butler’s Cabin had come in from 25 to 1 to 20 to 1 with Paddy Power. That does not mean that the owner has had an early bet, of course, but Butler’s Cabin will surely have a leading chance after capsizing at Becher’s second time round last season when apparently travelling very easily indeed. A personal view is that he would have won, though there is still a long way to go at that stage, as backers of Bewleys Berry, who ‘emptied’ very quickly, will no doubt point out.

One of the most interesting and informative racing lunches is the one normally held at the Savoy when the Aintree weights are announced in early February. The handicapper Phil Smith is invited up on to the stage and gives the reasons behind his key decisions. He had a very easy time of it from trainers in 2008, though Jenny Pitman has retired, of course.

The handicapper will be aware he faces an awkward task

Smith will already be aware that he faces an awkward task with Butler’s Cabin this time around. The reason is that Jonjo O’Neill will almost certainly train the nine-year old (as he will be next year, and that is comfortably the best age for National winners) with only one race in mind. That is what he was doing with Clan Royal in later years, but the horse deteriorated after losing his chance most unluckily when forced out at Becher’s in 2005.

Butler’s Cabin won the four-mile NH Chase at Cheltenham and the Irish National in 2007 and the only way you can win at Liverpool after that is to have the lightest possible campaign in the hope that Smith will take a lenient view. The horse was barely sighted in his two outings before the National and ran there off a mark of 147 giving him 11st 3lb. If Jonjo does the same thing again, Smith cannot justify raising him, even though he knows full well that he was cantering as they entered the closing stages in April. You cannot punish a horse for travelling well at Becher’s because you simply don’t know what would have happened, though you can make the point that Butler’s Cabin was certain to stay the trip.

The trainer is a charming man but also a very shrewd, calculating one and I think he will win the National for McManus and A P McCoy in 2009, compensating the jockey for at least two luckless outings.

As far as the Champion Hurdle is concerned, I have seen hardly any juvenile hurdlers win as easily as Binocular did at Liverpool last spring and McCoy, habitually taciturn and matter of fact, was fairly bursting with excitement when he told Nicky Henderson about it afterwards. Binocular, with classy form on the level in France to his credit, is probably quite highly-strung and will not want the ground riding soft, but it hardly ever does at Cheltenham in March these days. It will be a vintage Champion, be in no doubt. There is the very tough defending champion Katchit and the horse with the best level of form from last year Sizing Europe, who went wrong with two to jump in the big one, to name but two.

Even so, to watch Binocular thrashing Celestial Halo at Liverpool was to acknowledge that he will take the world of beating. As the man said, there is a long way to go. But, it you can secure some 25 to 1 and 7 to 1 about these two JP flag-bearers, you will not need to invest all that much to make an each-way double pay handsomely. Act quickly.

Filed on 17 Oct 2008 @ 12:46