He’s not in the Irish top ten rich lists (14th In 2012), claimed embarrassment when he received a medal from his home city, and famously took Facebook to court over a fake account scam and won.
Born in Limerick on March 10th, 1951, John Patrick (J.P.) McManus was educated at the Christian Brothers School in Limerick, inheriting his love and knowledge of horses from his father, Johhny, who kept show-jumpers.
The young McManus also loved a flutter and by the age of 9, he realised that his knowledge of horses could pay off. The story is told how, when sitting his Leaving Certificate history exam, his priority was to place a bet on a horse that he fancied. Finishing the exam early, he cycled to the racetrack arriving just in time to see his horse come in first, far too late to place his bet. Even so, although he missed out on his winnings, he did pass his examination, so the day wasn’t a complete waste.
Years later, describing his early gambling escapades to the Limerick Leader, McManus said: “I used to study the horses in the papers and I would always try and have a bet on in the big races. It was a problem, as I was too young to go into a betting office and I wasn’t too big for my age either.”
JP, as he is known to his friends and followers, began his career working in his father’s construction business. But in 1970, when JP almost 20, a £4 bet in a Newmarket maiden saw a horse called Linden Tree change his life for ever.
Linden Tree romped in at 100/8 and JB came away with a £50 profit, firing his lifelong obsession with gambling and all things racing. JP reinvested £4 of his winnings on that same horse in the Observer Gold Cup, a bet which returned £100 when it came in at 25/1, and a further fiver each-way at 33/1 on the Derby saw the horse coming up trumps yet again when it came in a close second behind the champion Mill Reef.
Quitting the construction business JP became a bookmaker, setting out his stall at Limerick’s Market Field greyhound track. His success as a bookie soon enabled him to buy his own racehorses and become a big-money punter earning him the nickname “The Sundance Kid” for his huge and mostly winning bets. At around this time JP also became an accomplished backgammon player and in 1982 he and his wife, former nurse, Noreen, bought 400 acre Martinstown Stud in their beloved County Limerick.
McManus's first horse was Cill Dara, and from those early beginnings he grew his stable to become National Hunt racing's largest owner with over 400 horses in training. He’s well known in the racing world to both fans and professionals alike, but even so in many ways he’s something of an enigma.
Green & Gold Hoop Silks
In 2010 JP's dream of winning the Grand National was fulfilled by his horse ‘Don't Push It‘ ridden by champion jockey A.P. McCoy. McManus often has multiple entries in the Aintree race; five runners in 2004, six in 2005, four in 2006, two in 2007, four in 2008, four in 2009 and four in 2010. It's easy to spot a JP McManus horse, as his jockeys always wear the owners distinctive silks – green & gold hoops.
Don't Push It was recently retired after failing to return to previous form. Trainer Jonjo O'Neill added: ‘The whole yard, and especially Tony and JP, owe him everything. He was also mine and JP's first National winner and obviously means the world to both of us.
A significant part of his wealth comes from private foreign exchange trading. Currencies are his speciality and, as with horse racing, his bets on currencies are huge. His personal fortune is estimated to be anywhere between 480 and 900 million pounds and at its peak is rumoured to have been double the higher figure.
He has a wide portfolio of investments from leisure centres and betting shops to pubs and nursing homes. He’s a big shareholder in Ladbrokes and, together with John Magnier with whom JP part-owns the sumptuous Sandy Lane hotel complex in Barbados, built up a 28.89 per cent share in Manchester United before selling it to businessman Malcolm Glazer.
Alongside his impressive sporting and business empires, which he oversees from an office in Geneva, he remains a true entrepreneur and philanthropist, focussing on his native Limerick.
In 1996, he established the J. P. McManus Scholarship Award which provides £5,000 each year for eight selected students at his former secondary school in Limerick.
In 2004, he set up ‘Sporting Limerick' which sponsors Limerick GAA teams.
A keen golfer and twice winner of the Alfred Dunhill Link Championship pro-am pairs competition, JP organises the J. P. McManus Invitation Pro-Am golf tournament in Limerick every five years, raising funds for Limerick charities. JP’s close friend Tiger Woods is just one of the famous personalities to take part and when Tiger fell from grace over his extra-marital affairs back in 2009, JP defended him saying: “He has done a lot of very good things in his time. He's done a lot of work for charity and he has been very good to Ireland.”
JP has been awarded an honorary doctorate in economic science from the University of Limerick and funded the Kemmy Business School at the University.
Although Switzerland is his official residence, he also has a permanent suite at London's Dorchester Hotel, returning home to Ireland regularly. Clearly rattled by criticism that he moved to Geneva to avoid taxation, he said in late 2011: “I didn’t leave the country in order to avoid paying a tax … I paid my taxes and I set up my business abroad. Do they want you to come back and try and support the local economy, try to earn some money abroad and then put it in the local economy. That’s what I like to do.”
Married with 3 children, it’s clear that JP’s roots remain firmly planted in Limerick. Diagnosed with cancer in late 2008 and after treatment in the USA he said on being named Limerick’s Person of the Year, 2011: “It is a delight that our children feel as strongly about our home place as we do and I look forward to spending many years of happiness in Limerick,”
JP was recently awarded a special Limerick gold medal, bearing his name, which has been added to the historic mayoral chain of Limerick in honour of his contribution towards ‘the social, community, education and sporting life of the city’. Modest and thoughtful as ever, JP commented when asked how he felt about the award: “I’m embarrassed to a point. I’m embarrassed because there’s so many other people who make it (Limerick) their lives day in and day out; I’m only here an odd day.”
Odd day or not, it’s clear that no matter where he may be John Patrick McManus remains a man of Limerick.