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Which football players and managers own racehorses?

11:00 EAT 15/03/2022
Sir Alex Ferguson Rock of Gibraltar 2002
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 racehorse is just part of the football lifestyle these days.

With the 2022 edition of the Cheltenham Festival getting under way, GOAL decided to take a deeper look into some of the most notable names to get involved in racing.

From Sir Alex Ferguson to Thomas Muller via Sergio Ramos and Antoine Griezmann, 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 ($261m) when he went to stud.

Eventually, Ferguson settled for £2.5m ($3m) - 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.

Sergio Ramos

There have been some big equestrianism fans to have graced the ranks at Real Madrid down the years, including Spain international full-back Alvaro Odriozola in the present.

Ex-Blancos captain Sergio Ramos is perhaps the most notable, though, having opened the SR4 Stud Farm near Seville. He has entered some of the horses he has bred into competition.

Former Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas - who is now a team-mate of Ramos at Paris Saint-Germain - also rode horses back in his home country of Costa Rica and continues to keep them at his family home.

Claudio Pizarro

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 racehorses 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 had a few horses that 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

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. However, in 2022, it was confirmed that Hugo Palmer would be replacing Dascombe as trainer at Manor House Stables.

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."

Interestingly, in 2017 Owen actually rode a horse, Calder Prince, at Ascot and finished second.

He is not the only player from Liverpool's Spice Boys era to pursue the sport - Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman also owned racehorses together.

Thomas Muller

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.

Faustino Asprilla

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 someone - supposedly himself - teaching one of his horses to play football while riding it in a pink Tyrannosaurus Rex costume. Yes, you read that correctly.

Mick Channon

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 licence 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.

Other notable names

Former West Ham and Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp saw a passion for racing sparked by his grandmother and owned some decent horses in his time, including smart sprinter Moviesta and useful hurdler Shakem Up'Arry.

Current Queens Park Rangers striker Charlie Austin is the founder of the Excel Racing syndicate and saw his first horse, Miss Sophierose, win a bumper on her debut at Worcester.

Manchester United's all-time leading goalscorer, Wayne Rooney, has invested in a number of horses in the past - including one called Switcharooney - while Newcastle frontman Chris Wood is a self-confessed racing fanatic.

World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann, who is now back at Atletico Madrid on loan following a testing stint at Barcelona, has owned runners at some of the biggest venues in France - with winners at Longchamp and Chantilly included on an impressive sporting CV that extends well beyond the football field.