As the saying goes, never look a gift horse in the mouth, so when Kevin Manning obliges to a request to talk about his career you do your homework. The obligatory google search for the word “Manning” throws up images, videos and articles is Ely and Peyton of NFL fame. One would be forgiven for expecting to see Kevin mentioned with English and Irish Derby wins on his CV plus a list of classic victories and too many Group 1’s to mention. However, after almost an hour of talking it is very obvious this omission by google would not bother him in the slightest.
Kevin Manning is currently the longest serving stable jockey in Irish and UK racing. Some achievement especially when you consider it stretches back to 1993 in Coolcullen with JS Bolger. When this point is made to Kevin, he quickly dismisses and says “I do not even think about, I don’t take a blind bit of notice”. With this very direct answer it’s apparent straight away that Kevin Manning is someone who does not rest on his laurels or dwell on success too much.
Longevity & Motivation
As the elder statesman in the weigh room what motivates you. “I love what I do. I’m healthy and fit and really enjoy it. You are always wondering if there is another good horse in the yard that will bring big race wins and that is what all jockey’s want”. On keeping in shape, Kevin opts to keep it very simple, it’s not really surprising that there is no gym routines “I do plenty of walking, I eat properly, I ride out most days and I am generally very active around the farm. That may not work for everyone but I do what works for me”.
With his years of experience, its not surprising that Kevin is sought out by some of the younger jockeys for advice, “ I’m happy to talk to any of the younger guys some are too shy while others ask for some pointers”. In general Kevin’s advice is very simple and could be applied to all walks of live “you need graft, you are going to hit bad patches but keep your head down and believe in yourself. Of course you need a bit of luck and hopefully a good horse comes along to take you to the next level.”
How did it all start?
With no history of racing in his family its fair to say Kevin had to make it on his own in a tough game in the early 80’s. “I’m from Kilsallaghan in north Dublin near the airport. My Dad was into racing but it was more national hunt he had an interest in as the Dreapers yard was nearby. I used to go along with him, I really enjoyed it and I eventually I got a pony and started doing show jumping and hunting. I started working at weekends and school holidays with Jim in Clonsilla before moving to Coolcullen on the Kilkenny/Carlow border.
They were different times especially for a young lad from Dublin moving the country, Kevin ads yes I’m from Dublin but I was out in the countryside. The life of an apprentice was very different then, we got home every two weeks, compare that to most people having a car now. I got the bus to Castlecomer from Dublin. We had to organise phone calls either to make or receive them at the phone box, such different times but they were great times as well.”
Kevin has just ridden a winner on Derby weekend at the Curragh in the form of Aunty Bridy as well as Fiscal Rules in the derby itself. Apart from big race wins Kevin has one particular fond memory of the Curragh that will never leave him. “I got my first winner there in 1983 on a horse called Keynes for Jim. I had ridden a good few races up to this and came close to winning a few times”. Do you recall much about the race itself “I’d ridden him in Balllinrobe on the Thursday and should have won there but Jim turned him out again for the apprentice race on a big weekend at the Curragh. He popped out, made all and won. My family were there, he was well fancied, it was a relief to get that first winner on the board and get the ball rolling.
The ball certainly started rolling as Kevin claimed two Apprentice Championships. Reflecting on these “they were great and I am happy but it would be nice to put a Champion Jockey title with them but it has not happened.” Kevin took over from Christy Roche as stable jockey in 1993 and came close the following year to winning the title. Was there added pressure taking over the role? “There is always pressure, I just wanted to make as little mistakes as possible. Christy and Jim had plenty of success and I wanted to continue that. I learned lots from Christy, at the time you may not realise you are learning until the moment arises that you need it”. Kevin stepped up to the mark and won the Heinz Group 1 on Eva Luna in 1994 which led on to numerous big races successes which takes used nicely to look at some of the big winners in your career.
Big Race wins
With so many big race wins it’s not possible to look at them all so we have chosen a few races and certain horses that Kevin and Jim Bolger will be forever associated with. Margarula gave Kevin his first Irish classic success in the 2002 Irish Oaks. This was the beginning of a particularly fruitful period for Kevin and connections in Coolcullen.
What is it about that particular race? 5 winners. Teofilo (2006), New Approach (2007), Intense Focus (2008), Parish Hall (2011), Dawn Approach (2012) Rather humbly Kevin says “It just so happened that we stumbled across really good 2 year olds and many won the national stakes as well. Jim targeted those races and we won”. This is a good ppoint to look a little closer at some of these particular horses.
5 starts and 5 wins as a two year old including the Dewhurst Stakes. Kevin is not one to look back but he does with Teofilo albeit with a rueful tone. “He is one that got away. After a great 2 year old campaign in 2006 I was so looking forward to 2007, over the winter he was favourite for the 2,000 Guineas and Derby but alas injury prevented him from fulfilling his potential”. It was not to be, but he is making a name for himself at stud.
Hong Kong Cup 04, Nassau Stakes: 05 Prix de L’Opera 04, Pretty Polly Stakes 05 & 06. After a win on Arc weekend in Paris it was decided to make the trip across the globe to Sha Tin for the Hong Kong Cup. “The win in Sha Tin in 2004 is one of my most memorable moments. With approximately 90,000 people there and after the race they played the Irish National Anthem as we stud on the podium, it made the hairs stand on the back of your neck. To this day I’ll never forget it. It’s a huge race. It was a fantastic training performance to bring a horse to the other side of the world and win. She was an amazing horse. She could be slow from the stalls but we needed a good start given our draw and she broke perfectly and the race panned out exactly how Jim and I had hoped and planned.”
Epsom Derby 08, Irish & English Champion Stakes & English Champion Stakes and second in both 2,000 Guineas. What can you say about him? He was a mindboggling horse, he ran very free. He was very keen and used to ride down to the start with a pony to keep him relaxed. What do you recall of the Derby? He was very keen, we were a little further back than ideal but I had planned if possible to follow Frankie on a Godolphin horse whom I knew had speed but would maybe not stay and as it turned out that’s exactly what happened. He took me nicely into the race and with a furlong and a half to go I was behind a wall of horses but we got an opening on the rail and it was all over in a few strides. We were confident beforehand but you need a lot of luck. He won the Irish and English Champion Stakes. Kevin ads “he won by 6 lengths in and set a track record at Newmarket that stands to this day. He was retired after that and so he went out on a high.”
In 2012 came Dawn Approach, a son of New Approach, he began with seven wins in a row to start his career, it must have generated huge excitement. Kevin ads he is the type of horse that keeps you motivated and keeps you going, we all want to find horses of this calibre” He was really impressive in the 2000 Guineas and was favourite for the Epsom Derby. To this day we do not know what happened that day, he left the stall totally out of control and he ran himself into the ground in the first four or five furlongs.” Being the great horse he was Dawn Approach did not have to wait long to redeem himself. “Jim did an unbelievable training job to get him home from England and ready for Ascot and the St James Palace Stakes which was less than 3 weeks after the Derby, it is an unbelievably tough race to win and he showed tremendous guts to fight back and beat Toranado that day. He proved what a great horse he was.”
Irish Derby 2013. “He actually won his maiden in Gowran Park by 7 lengths. Jim asked me afterwards, have we a Derby horse? I knew he was very good and had potential but we did not know for sure. His build up was different to either Dawn or New Approach “he ran third in the Guineas but the mile was too short. Jim stepped him up to a mile and a quarter in the Group 2 TRM Stakes and after winning that I was really confident he would finish in the top 3 in the Derby and all I needed was a bit of look. Thankfully we got it and we won an Irish Derby.
Have you a favourite memory at Gowran Park. “I recall one particular evening in the mid 90’s I nearly rode a four timer there.” Having spent almost an hour talking about his career it is not surprising of Kevin to present it this way. He does not say I rode a treble instead it’s I nearly rode a 4 timer. This is an indicator to his mentality whereby he thinks of the ones that got away instead of races that he has won and maybe this is key to his career longevity and success.
On racing a Gowran Park, “you need a smart horse to win there”. Prompted to explain this a little more “the seven furlongs there is very stiff and a good test, the undulations and turns test horses especially the 2 year olds, you need a well balanced horse to overcome these challenges to win there.
Tell us about racing abroad. “I spent winters riding in Hong Kong, Macau & Dubai. However I’ve ridden in India, Japan, Mauritius, Turkey as well as most European countries.
The Hong Kong Cup was special with the National Anthem played afterwards but it is clear that Kevin does not dwell on success but he must have a favourite win, he adds “I honestly don’t really think about it. Maybe a favourite horse? “I’ve been so lucky to ride so many great horses it would be wrong to mention anyone in particular. We spoke about a number of them here but we could mention Finsceal Beo who won two 1,000 Guneas”. Pressed a bit more as to what photos adorn his sitting room “there are very few photos in my house, if you come into my house you would barely know a jockey lives there”.
What race would you most like to win?
“The Irish 2,000 Guineas. I’ve won the English version I’ve been second on horses that went on to big success but for whatever reason I’ve just never had the horse on the day that won it.
Plans for the future
“I’m happy riding, really enjoying it and hoping we can come across another group one or classic winning horse and that desire still burns.”
Back to our google search….. this time we type in New Approach, Teofilo, Finsceal Beo, Dawn Approach, Trading Leather and images of these super horses decorate the screen. The quiet, humble man, with a huge love of horses sitting on their backs is what really counts to one KJ Manning even if he does not look back at those glory days.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinmanning910