WHAT A MANNING
We talk about the Golden Age of racing similar to the way in which we discuss the Golden Age of Hollywood. Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Laurence Olivier et al all famed for their prowess in their time. Similarly, within racing the names of Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery and Kieren Fallon come to mind. Rightly within such an illustrious list there is a firm spot for Kevin Manning, a jockey whose longevity and talent has never wavered over multiple decades.
On a cold and grey bank holiday Monday in Galway, with the Irish flat season drawing to a close, a rider known for being hard working, gentlemanly and ‘neat as a pin’ rode his final winner. Wearing the familiar purple and white silks of Jackie Bolger Kevin partnered the odds on favourite Vocal Studies (son of Vocalist) to a clear maiden success. Riding for his father-in-law, the masterful Jim Bolger, in a jockey and trainer partnership which is the longest in racing, spanning a remarkable 29 years. Something of a rarity in this day and age.
After the race Kevin, humble as ever, said it was an emotional day but one that was always going to come. Having personally watched Kevin all season he was riding as good as he ever has. Seeing him at various meetings he always had a smile or a moment to say hello and I was hoping the day he hung up his boots was never going to be.
As it was the last turf meeting he could ride at this year (due to a suspension) Kevin told Gary O’Brien that the time was right.
The Galway crowd and jockeys came out to give Kevin a good send off. You could see it meant a lot as he paid tribute to his wife Una and also his children Claire and James. When pushed to pick a particular horse that was his favorite of his career, he replied “It would be wrong to pick a particular horse” although I’m sure us racing fans have many who have paid our bills over the years.
To understand the man himself it's worth taking a look back at an illustrious career which started when Kevin (at the tender age of 12) started riding at Jim Bolger’s in Carlow. It was very fitting and only appropriate that when the time came to bow-out he would finish on a winner for the man who gave him his first opportunity. Kevin, now 55, was born in Kilsaallaghan, North County Dublin with no racing background whatsoever. He started his journey in the saddle at 12
where he gained experience in pony racing. Three years later in 1982 he was given his first proper racecourse ride. He had to wait a year for his first winner to arrive when partnering Keynes to victory. Who trained it I hear you ask? Why Jim of course! He took an apprentice handicap at the Curragh. Other familiar names Kevin rode against that day were Kieren Fallon and Richard Fahey. Kevin was crowned Champion Apprentice on two occassions both in 1984 and 1987. At the time Jim Bolger's go to jockey was Christy Roche who Jim took over from once Roche retired in 1993.
In 1994 Kevin claimed the first of his many Group 1's on Eva Luna in the Phoenix Stakes, beating the Dermot Weld trained Sharp Point by a length and a half. Known as being one of the greatest racehorses of her generation Eva Luna won her first 5 races as a two-year-old.
26 years later Kevin’s last Group 1 victory came aboard Mac Swiney at Doncaster. Very apt in the fact that his sire New Approach was Jim Bolger and Manning's only Epsom Derby winner. No one could forget that Derby ride which has to go down as one of the most well thought out Derby rides in history. Kevin took the decision to switch inside at Epsom, a move that many jockey's would hesitate at the thought of, but boy did it pay off. Jim said after claiming the Derby “If he had went right instead of left he would not have won”. A life lesson in itself we can all relate to, that one split second choice can change everything.
Through the years Kevin’s trademark was taking the "brave man's" route. Something that was evident even a few weeks ago at very muddy Navan. Sitting aboard Bridge Of Dawn Kevin did what he does best and like a knife through butter won beautifully. Even the “Twitter Experts” (known for their negativity when it comes to most rides) were hard pressed not to be impressed.
Some might say with age comes experience but his riding and well judged tactics continued to be as fresh as ever. Horses just seemed to get up and find more for him when sometimes they looked beaten. That is why there is 1700 winners to his name worldwide, 36 Group 1’s and 8 Classics.
Another Irish Iron Man Davy Russell said upon the news of Kevin’s retirement “If you wanted to see how it was done right you’d watch Kevin. Hard working and neat as a pin.”
From a spectators point of view at 5”10 Keving wasn't necessarily built for riding so it was even more incredible just how neat he always looked in the saddle. The 2004 Hong Kong Cup win on Alexander Goldrun was a prime example of Kevins talents. A dreamlike ride and to travel the world and ride winners like that is a testament to not just his riding ability but the mental strength of the man. Alexander Goldrun is perhaps a horse that Manning had most affinity with. A filly that won 5 Group 1’s in four different countries. As well as her Hong Kong Cup success she then went on to claim the Prix de l'Opera, the Nassau Stakes and back to back Pretty Polly Stakes all as part of a majestic partnership with Kevin.
Another superstar of the four-legged variety appeared in 2007 when Teofilo nearly achieved the unthinkable by claiming the Guineas treble. Winning in both Ireland and England before just being denied the hat-trick at Longchamp. Bolger's wonder horse also won the Dewhurst Stakes, a race Manning seemed to know how to crack having 5 victories in total with Dawn Approach, Parish Hall, Intense Focus and New Approach being the other part of the quintet.
The beautiful chestnut with a white blaze & sock in the form of Dawn Approach became 2012 highest rated two-year-old in Europe. He was so exciting, bred by Jim Bolger & owned with Godolphin. The colt had a Coventry Stakes, a National Stakes & a Dewhurst Stakes all under his girth. As a three-year-old he was the horse on everyone’s lips for the classics. Winning the 2000 Guineas on his first appearance that year he then went on to win the St James Palace at Royal Ascot, he was also the first crop of New Approach.
Other noticeable partners for Kevin included the likes of Dawn Approach, Trading Leather and Poetic Flair (who would be Kevin’s last classic winner, winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket just last year). Kevin scooped the classic at the age of 54 and in a world where there is a certain obsession with age I think it is safe to say Kevin has proven it really is only a number.
As the sunset over Ballybrit on Monday it also set on a marvelous career. We could write several books on the prowess of Kevin Manning both in and out of the saddle but quite simply a fantastic jockey and one of life’s true gentlemen.
We thank you Kevin and wish you the very best of luck in whatever “New Approach” you take.
written by Dawn Leadon-Bolger
Kevin rides Epsom Derby winner New Approach back in 2008.
Poetic Flare takes Kevin to Guineas success.
Alexander Goldrun wins the 2004 Hong Kong Cup
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