Sir Alex Ferguson and Michael Owen are well-known supporters of the sport of kings but they will not be the only ones watching the Cheltenham Festival
Owning a race horse is just part of the football lifestyle these days – you can even buy one in New Star Soccer.
With the 2017 edition of the Cheltenham Festival underway, however, we decided to take a deeper look into some of the most notable names to get involved in racing in recent years.
From Sir Alex Ferguson to Thomas Muller, it turned up some interesting stories.
SIR ALEX FERGUSON
Ferguson’s part-ownership of Rock of Gibraltar, the 2002 European Horse of the Year, is probably the most famous – and notorious – example of racing and football mixing in the UK.
The then-Manchester United manager claimed that in 2001 he was gifted a 50 per cent stake in the horse by John Magnier, who at the time was a major shareholder in the Red Devils along with his associate J.P. McManus.
Fergie subsequently demanded that share of the horse’s lucrative stud fees – the charge for the horse’s service in breeding – only for Magnier to insist that they remain in the control of Coolmore Stud, the breeding operation he owns.
It might not have been such a big deal had ‘Rocky’ not gone on to win seven Group 1 races after Ferguson and Magnier’s supposed arrangement had been struck, meaning he was valued at around £200 million when he went to stud.
Eventually, Ferguson settled for £2.5m – a deal which does not look particularly favourable for him in hindsight. The saga was a major problem for United, with Magnier and McManus turning against Ferguson in a series of concerns addressed at the club hierarchy and eventually selling to the unpopular Glazer family.
There are a couple of big equestrianism fans in the Real Madrid squad; Sergio Ramos is the most notable, having opened the SR4 Stud Farm near Seville. He has entered some of the horses he has bred into competition.
Keylor Navas, too, rode horses back in his home country of Costa Rica and continues to keep them at his family home.
Not entirely surprisingly, Diego Maradona enjoys a day at the races and had a stake in several horses in Argentina during the 1990s while playing for Boca Juniors.
He liked to name them after his friends, dubbing one ‘Cani’ after Claudio Caniggia and another ‘Guille’ for his former agent Guillermo Coppola.
Here’s a weird football fact you probably won’t have heard before: Claudio Pizarro and Joey Barton co-owned a horse called Crying Lightning. How that came about, we have no idea.
Pizarro apparently owns more than 50 race horses in Argentina and likes a bet on American racing, though he was keen to stress to DW-World in Germany that he risks only small sums.
Barton, meanwhile, has a few horses he likes to name after songs – My Propeller joins Crying Lightning in the Arctic Monkeys collection and there is also Hand In Glove (The Smiths).
Michael Owen is perhaps the biggest recent footballer-turned-racing-aficionado there is, founding his own stable in Cheshire in 2006 and turning it into a Group 1-calibre facility for trainer Tom Dascombe.
The former Liverpool striker’s passion for the sport is undoubtedly genuine; he was caught in tears when Brown Panther won the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot back in 2011. The horse’s mother, Treble Heights, he explained, was one of the family.
“I raced the mother, I’ve got a few of the brothers at home,” Owen enthused. “She’s a family pet and so are all the offspring. I’ve got four children and they all love the mother. We pat it most days and she’s a lovely mare.”
He is not the only player from Liverpool’s Spice Boys era to pursue the sport – Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman also own race horses together.
This is stretching the rules a bit – Muller and his wife Lisa, a semi-professional dressage rider, keep horses at their home in Germany, but for show rather than racing.
Lisa competes in dressage competitions in Bavaria but the family also have a stake in higher-level competition – one show-jumping horse Muller co-owns, called Leonidas, has been ridden by Ludger Beerbaum, a German who has been ranked the top show jumper in the world on multiple occasions.
Ex-Newcastle United striker Tino Asprilla is a lover of fine horses and owns several worth millions that live on his ranch in Colombia.
We really wanted to include him on this list, however, because he once posted a video of himself teaching one of his horses to play football while riding it in a pink Tyrannosaurus Rex costume. Yes, you read that correctly.
Enseñándole a mi caballo Firulai a jugad futbol. pic.twitter.com/OBN1trmzm0
— Faustino Asprilla (@TinoasprillaH) February 18, 2016
If there is one man to top Owen’s racing success, it is Mick Channon. Like Owen, he rose to fame initially by scoring goals, netting 21 for England in the 1970s and enough for Southampton to remain their all-time top scorer to this day.
After retiring he took up his interest in racing, starting out as an assistant before getting his own license and establishing himself as one of the top trainers in the sport. His reputation with horses probably now surpasses what he achieved on the pitch, which is no small feat.
Channon has delivered millions of pounds in prize money and put up 71 winners in British flat races in 2016. In his most prolific year, 2003, he enjoyed 144 victories.
Start your own football-playing, race horse-owning career with the latest version of New Star Soccer by downloading it for free now on iOS and Android.