Many football legends have caught the horse racing bug over the years, but for some reason Manchester United seems inextricably linked to the sport of kings.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club – which is a charitable and community benefactor – is even an official partner of Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s love of horse racing was well-known many years before he retired from the Old Trafford dugout, while many United stars have also indulged their love of racing over the years.
Perhaps the most famous footballer to have swapped the sport for racing is Michael Owen, who has become a real force in racing over recent years with heavy investment in his own stables.
Owen is likely to have many of his charges entered in races at the upcoming Cheltenham Festival, which takes place in March.
Sir Alex Ferguson
The Rock of Gibraltar affair was one of the darkest moments in the glittering career of Manchester United’s legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
In the early 2000s United were at the peak of their powers, but an off-the-field horse ownership row between Ferguson and key club shareholder John Magnier threatened to overshadow the club’s achievements.
Eventually Ferguson and Magnier settled out of court, for a fee reported to be in the region of £2.5 million, but the Rock of Gibraltar incident left a sour taste in the mouth.
United legend Roy Keane had his say on the argument in his autobiography The Second Half, writing: “He [Ferguson] was just a mascot for them – ‘look at me, how big I am’ – and he didn’t even own the bloody thing.”
Ferguson has continued to be involved in racing, with the horses he has owned including Harry The Viking and What A Friend, who were both entered in the 2013 Grand National.
The famously volatile Scot even has a horse named Hairdryer. Click here for Cheltenham Ladies Day betting offers.
United and England captain Wayne Rooney is perhaps the highest profile current player to have a known interest in racing.
Right at the start of his career Rooney was blocked by the Jockey Club when he tried to name two of his horses Norfolk Enchants and Hoof Hearted, showing off that famous Scouse humour.
Rooney’s wife Coleen is also a fan of racing and she is regularly seen at Aintree on Ladies Day.
Michael Owen has had a huge influence on the world of horse racing since retiring from football.
The former Manchester United striker is setting new standards for stables and many experienced trainers are sitting up and taking notice of how Owen is going about his involvement in racing.
Manor House Stables, which is based on a 174-acre estate in Malpas, Cheshire, is a superb facility and all the hard work is paying off, with Owen’s horse Brown Panther winning the prestigious Dubai Gold Cup.
Sadly, Brown Panther suffered a shattered leg in the Irish St Leger and had to be put down, which Owen described as the saddest day of his life.
“The toughest, most honest, most brilliant horse I will ever set eyes on passed away today doing the thing he loved most,” Owen said. “I love you Panther, life will not be the same without you.”
Ferguson’s horse Snap Shots is among the promising horses Owen looks after at his stables.
More United links to racing
Paul Scholes and John O’Shea are among the other former United footballers to have invested in horse racing.
O’Shea and Scholes were part-owners of Diaminda, who won her debut race at Ascot but now appears in the United States after suffering a burst blood vessel.
Jonny Evans now plays his football for West Bromwich Albion but he is another former Manchester United player involved in racing, part-owning a filly called Announcement with Owen and Rooney.