Born in 1951, John Patrick “J.P.” McManus grew up in Limerick, Ireland, where his family operated a construction plant hire firm. As a boy, he was fascinated by the greyhound racing at Limerick’s Market Field, and in the 1970s he set up his own on-course bookmaking stand there.
At the urging of his good friend Jimmy Hayes, McManus decided to buy a horse for racing—a thoroughbred named Cill Dara, which had been owned by Tim O’Toole, a noted gambler and Edenderry solicitor who had recently passed away. In 1982, along with his wife Noreen, a former nurse, J.P. purchased the 400-acre Martinstown Stud in County Limerick from the McCalmont family and his life as a bastion of British racing history began.
Mixing Business with Pleasure
McManus got his first major win as a racehorse owner with Mister Donovan at Cheltenham in 1982. His horse was second-seed to Angelo Salvini in the Novices’ Hurdle, but the favorite whipped around at the start and J.P.’s horse went on to a victory worth an estimated $250,000.
By far the most famous mount owned by McManus was the hurdling champion Istabraq. The Irish thoroughbred won the Future Champions and four other novice hurdles in 1996-97 before going on to a record on 23-3-0 in a career spanning 29 jumping races. The wins include a hat-trick at the Champion Hurdle (1998-2000) and a string of four triumphs at the Irish Champion Hurdle (1998-2001), for total lifetime earnings of £1,053,385.
Although J.P. would eventually own over 400 horses and count 12-time Champion Jockey A.P. McCoy is his stable jockey, racing has actually been just a sideline for the Irishman. His true talent is in international finance, with a specialty in currency trading. McManus established a private Forex business in Geneva, Switzerland and set up residency there, en route to amassing a fortune estimated at nearly €2 billion.
J.P.’s investments reportedly include leisure centers, betting shops, pubs and nursing homes, and he holds a large stake in the high-street bookmaker Ladbrokes. Together with close friend John Magnier, McManus currently owns 28.9% of the world famous Manchester United Football Club, too.
Larger than Life
Risk-taking defines J.P. McManus. He allegedly went bankrupt twice on his way to the wealth that now surrounds him. His “bets” on currencies are said to be “no less bold than his sports wagers, (and) in fact, they are bank scale.” Although McManus says his interest in wagering is not an obsession and he “rarely bets” these days, when he does take a flutter it can be quite newsworthy. For example, in 2006 J.P. reportedly won more than £1 million in horseracing bets at Cheltenham from Scottish bookmaker “Fearless” Freddie Williams. It’s said that he regularly wins hundreds of thousands of pounds in a single afternoon.
The lifestyle of a high-roller certainly seems to suit McManus. In addition to homes in Ireland and Switzerland, he co-owns the Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados, has his own private jet and maintains a permanent suite in London’s Dorchester Hotel. An avid golfer, the billionaire counts Tiger Woods among his close friends and sponsors the annual J.P. McManus Invitational Pro-Am tournament, a charity golf event much loved by the media.
In 2008, McManus was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He has been undergoing treatment in the United States and seems to be feeling strong, according to intermittent reports. At age 61, J.P. is both revered and reviled for his brash, unapologetic exploits in the worlds of gambling and finance. No doubt he has left an indelible mark on both and will long be thought of as the quintessential Irish success story.