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Last Updated: Friday, 7 March, 2003, 12:39 GMT
Racing duo eye big prize
By Frank Keogh

Manchester United fans

First it was merely an 'interest' - now it looks like the countdown to taking control.

The move by Irish racing millionaires John Magnier and JP McManus to increase their share in Manchester United to nearly a quarter means intriguing times ahead.

And the 60m question is what will happen to Old Trafford boss Sir Alex Ferguson?

Ferguson was a one-time ally of Magnier, the man behind the hugely successful Coolmore breeding empire.

But the pair were widely reported to have fallen out over the record-breaking horse Rock of Gibraltar.

Part-owner Ferguson thought he had a call on the colt's breeding rights, worth an estimated 12m. Super-cool Magnier appeared to believe otherwise.

With Fergie close to agreeing a new deal, Magnier and McManus have three options:

  • 1. Hang onto United shares as a good investment
  • 2. Try to block a takeover by other shareholders, such as American football tycoon Malcolm Glazier
  • 3. Launch a takeover themselves

    The latest move brings into focus the Irish duo's friendship with countryman Dermot Desmond, who boasts a small United stake but a much bigger share in Glasgow Celtic, where the sought-after Martin O'Neill is manager.

    Desmond, like McManus, is friends with Bahamas-based tycoon Joe Lewis - who has an interest in the other Old Firm side, Rangers.

    Here, BBC Sport looks at the main players in the saga.


    JP McManus

    Status: Legendary gambler and major racehorse owner. Nicknamed the 'Sundance Kid.'

    Famous for: Mighty punts in the betting ring and being universally known by his initials of JP.

    JP McManus is a major racehorse owner

    Horses: Owns a string of top-quality National Hunt horses, notably the retired triple champion hurdler Istabraq. His current crop includes Baracouda and Flagship Uberalles. Ran a horse called Youlneverwalkalone in the 2003 Grand National.

    Where he fits in: Fan of Arsenal, although his horses run in similar hoops to those of Glasgow Celtic, whose majority shareholder Dermot Desmond caddied for him when he played golf against none other than Tiger Woods.

    Other connections: JP is friendly with Bahamas-based Joe Lewis, the former owner of Enic, which acquired big stakes in Glasgow Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur, along with Greek side AEK Athens.

    Money: Said to be ranked 14th in Ireland's rich list. Bets in six-figure sums.


    John Magnier

    Status: Smartly-dressed horse breeding guru.

    Famous for: Shrewd investments in the thoroughbred market.

    John Magnier owns Coolmore stud
    Horses: Owns Coolmore, the leading stud in Europe, based in County Tipperary. Along with his wife Sue, has been a major shareholder in numerous Flat racing champions in recent years. Paid over 1m each for two yearlings at sales last week.

    Where he fits in: Man Utd fan. John's wife Sue, the daughter of great trainer Vincent O'Brien, part-owned the 2001 Epsom and Irish Derby winner Galileo, and other leading horses. She shared ownership with former bookie and West Ham fan Michael Tabor, once linked with a Hammers buy-out.

    Other connections: Magnier, along with McManus, were once reported to be interested in helping Dermot Desmond with his stake in Celtic. The current Celtic boss Martin O'Neill has been linked with a move to Man Utd when Ferguson stands down.

    Money: With JP, initially held a 2.9% stake in Man Utd. Then acquired 8m shares on 12 July, 2001, the day Ferguson unveiled Juan Sebastian Veron as the country's most expensive footballer at 28.1m. A further 1.8m shares were bought 24 hours later.

    Now the pair have paid 62m for BSkyB's 9.9% stake in United - leaving their holding at 23.15%.


    Sir Alex Ferguson

    Status: Legendary football manager.

    Famous for: Bringing European glory to Aberdeen and leading Man Utd to new heights, including an historic treble.

    Sir Alex Ferguson
    Horses: Owns several racehorses. Magnier said to have gifted him a half-share in the record-breaking Rock of Gibraltar, trained at the Ballydoyle stables owned by Magnier.

    Their relationship flourished until 'The Rock' was retired and breeding rights were disputed.

    Where he fits in: Has been racing with the men behind the Cubic Expression Company. Co-owned a horse called Juniper with Magnier's associate Michael Tabor, himself once linked with a takeover at West Ham.

    Other connections: Friends with Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp, the former West Ham boss and a fellow punter. Ferguson has taken his United players to the races at Chester.

    Money: Ferguson is on a lucrative contract after a U-turn over his decision to stand down as manager, and was reported to be close to signing a four-year extension.





  • SEE ALSO
    Cheltenham's big owners
    06 Mar 03  |  Horse Racing
    Jump racing: The owners
    03 Mar 03  |  Horse Racing


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