IT rained on October 31st as Kevin Manning drove to Galway. He had some nice rides, Soilse in the mile handicap, Purple Gown in the seven-furlong handicap, Vocal Studies in the seven-furlong maiden.

“D’you know,” he said to his wife Úna as he drove, “if I ride a winner today, that could be it.”

He had mentioned it to Úna a couple of weeks earlier. The end of the turf season was looming, Dundalk stretching ahead of him into the dark floodlit Friday nights of the winter. A suspension meant that he was ruled out for the last day of the turf season at Naas, so that Monday at Galway was the last day on which he could ride on Irish turf until next March.

He wasn’t certain that he wanted to go back next year and, if he was going to go back, he figured, he had to go to Dundalk during the winter, keep himself sharp and fit.

He finished fourth on his first ride at Galway, Soilse in the mile handicap, and he finished down the field on On The Money in the nursery.

Then he went out to ride Vocal Studies in the maiden. As they straightened up, he asked his horse to lengthen, and he did. They hit the front on the run to the furlong marker, and Kevin Manning kept his horse going forward up the hill all the way to the line, where he was over two lengths clear of his nearest rival.

“It was only then that it really hit me,” he says now, reflecting on it all, relaxed at his kitchen table on the far side of a bowl of soup and a cup of tea.

“I thought: will I, won’t I. I still wasn’t certain! So I came back into the winner’s enclosure and popped off him.

“Úna was there, and I said, well, what do you think? I was thinking, I had three more good rides on the day. She said, it’s your call, but you’ve ridden a winner. If you’re going to do it, do it now. So that was it.”

Ger Flynn was there, a key cog in the Jim Bolger wheel. ‘That’s it,” Kevin said to Ger. ‘Finito.’


From the outside, you could tell that something was going on, the smiles, the kerfuffle, but you couldn’t know for sure what it was. Some of the jockeys who had ridden in the race started to gather around.

Colin Keane shook his hand. Kevin Manning just walked out of the parade ring and weighed in. For the final time.

It was typical Kevin Manning. Low key. No fuss. No fanfare. A dark and wet Monday afternoon at Galway with a smattering of people around.

“There was no plan in place,” he says. “Going to the start in that race, I never gave it a moment’s thought. It wasn’t until I was pulling up that I thought, this would be a nice way to go out, a winner for Jim (Bolger), in Jackie’s colours. All they did for me throughout my career.”

It didn’t really sink in for a couple of days. His phone was obviously red hot that evening, the calls, the messages. It was all a little overwhelming, he tells you.

But it wasn’t until a couple of days later that the realisation truly dawned, that he had actually pulled the plug. And it was only then that he could start to reflect on all that he achieved. He won’t admit it, but how remarkable a riding career he had.

'Finito' - Kevin Manning recieves congratulations from long time colleague and friend Ger Flynn after announcing his retirement after winning on Vocal Studies \ Healy Racing.


He remembers Keynes. He remembers getting beaten on him in a handicap in Ballinrobe.

“I missed the kick with the tape start,” he says, “came home late, should have won. Jim had another filly running on the same day in a hurdle race, Rosemore, and she won by half the track.

“I had had a fair few placed horses, but I hadn’t ridden a winner, and I was beginning to doubt myself a little bit. And certainly, after one getting away that should have won.” Still smarting.

“I remember on the Friday morning, Jim came into me and said, if I declare that horse for Saturday in the mile handicap at the Curragh, will you win on him? I said, yes I will. He said, okay, you ride him on Saturday. And you also ride Rosemore in the two-mile handicap.”

He thought, well one of these will win.

“I remember going into the weigh-room at the Curragh. It was a big thing going to the Curragh. So I had Keynes in the first and Rosemore in the last.

“The race couldn’t have gone better, we got to the front and we got to the rail, and I remember having a peep about a furlong and a half out and I thought to myself, this is happening. We won by about four lengths.”

After the photographs and the congratulations, a first winner, first time into the winner’s enclosure, he was on his way back into the weigh-room when Jim called him back.

‘You have enough for one day,’ he said to him. ‘I’m going to put Pat Gilson up on Rossmore. You can go down and give the boys a hand.’

“That was Jim’s way,” says Kevin. “I ended up leading up Rosemore! So I rode a winner on the day, and the other one I was to ride, I ended up leading her up! I’d say in Jim’s head, he wanted to get me a winner, they both looked like they could win, so if something went wrong with one of them, I had the other one.

“Rosemore won easily, she was a complete steering job. But instead of me riding her, I was leading her up. Jim wanted to get me a winner, but two would have been too much!”

First interest

It was through his dad Jim that young Kevin first developed an interest in horses and in racing. Jim Manning worked at the airport but, in his spare time, he was a keen racegoer.

“My dad had a great love and following for racing. He used to go to all the local meetings, Phoenix Park, Fairyhouse, Navan. As far back as I can remember, most of my Saturdays during the winter I went racing with my father.”

When he was nine or 10, Kevin started pestering his dad and his mum Cristina, wanting a pony. Although times were tough, a pony was acquired and young Kevin was off hunting and showjumping.

“I don’t know how they did it,” says Kevin slowly. “I still don’t know how my parents got that pony. It was a really big deal at the time.

“We had no knowledge of horses or racing, but obviously they saw how keen I was to ride, so they did what they needed to do to get me a pony. I owe so much to my mother and father. They were so supportive of me always.

“My mother lived to see some of my big race wins. My father died just after I was champion apprentice for the first time. I would have loved if he could have been around for longer, he would have enjoyed it all, but at least he saw me winning the apprentices’ championship.”

Hunting and showjumping were great, but the young Kevin Manning wanted to go faster.

“We were looking for a race pony then, and we had heard that there was a good one in Jim Bolger’s. Jim was training out of the Phoenix Park then.

“The only way I was going to get a look at this pony though, was if I went up and rode him, so that Jim could see that I could ride. My uncle Joe, who worked at the time for Brian Lynam, Eddie’s father, brought me up to Jim’s one morning and left me there at the gates. I was put up on a couple of quiet racehorses.

“After that I was asked if I wanted to come back the following day, then the following weekend, then the weekend after that. And the weekends moved into the summer, and the summer moved into an apprenticeship and, long story short, I never got to ride the pony!”

When Jim Bolger was moving from Lohunda Park to Coolcullen, his young rider had a decision to make.

Move down

“I had just left school, and I remember Jim bringing me down to this place that they had bought. He was wanting to know if I wanted to move down. It’s only an hour and a half down the road then, but in those days, it was like the other end of the world!

“It was a little bit daunting, I’d obviously never been away from home before, but the horses had grabbed me at the time, and that overshadowed everything else.”

There were good horses there too, good fillies. Flame Of Tara, Give Thanks, Condessa, Park Appeal. Polonia and Park Express would come along shortly afterwards.

“Declan (Gillespie) was stable jockey at the time but, when he wasn’t available, more and more, if Declan was out injured, Jim started putting me up on some of the better horses.

You don’t think that you have a chance of even riding in it. So to win it. Yeah, that was a very special day.”

“I was getting a lot of rides in some of those big handicaps, claiming off them. Then Christy (Roche) took over from Declan. Looking back, I wouldn’t have had the experience to take on the job at the time. But, when Christy moved to Aidan’s in 1993, I was in the right place.”

He says right place, right time, that he knew the horses, knew the gallops, knew Jim’s way of doing things. He doesn’t talk about his talent, about that ability that Jim Bolger saw when he first sat up on a horse in the Phoenix Park, the talent that Paddy Mullins noticed and used lots, the one that took him to the apprentices’ championship in 1984 and again in 1987. There was much more to it than right place, right time.

“In the spring of 1994, Jim said that I could ride all the horses. That was a big deal. To know that there wasn’t a senior jockey ahead of you, that whatever horses were there in the yard, they would be yours to ride. That it would be your call. That was a good feeling. I was just bursting to get going.”


He hit the ground running. He rode his first Group 1 winner in his first full year in the job, Eva Luna in the Heinz 57, and he fought out the jockeys’ championship with Michael Kinane, just three winners in it in the end with the two of them miles clear of Christy Roche and Johnny Murtagh and John Egan and Pat Shanahan.

In 1996, he went close in the jockeys’ championship again, going to the wire with Johnny Murtagh. And the big horses and big races flowed.

Kevin after winning the St James’s Palace Stakes with Poetic Flare \ Healy Racing

Desert Style and Idris and Swift Gulliver and Dazzling Park. In 2002, he won the Irish Oaks on Margarula, a first classic. In 2003, he won a maiden at the Curragh on Alexander Goldrun, who would go on to win the Prix de l’Opera and the Nassau Stakes and the Pretty Polly Stakes twice. And the Hong Kong Cup.

“The Hong Kong Cup was massive,” he says. “I’ll never forget it, standing up on the podium, singing the Irish national anthem. You’re talking 100,000 people in Sha Tin. To be so far away from Ireland, for Jim to take a filly so far, and the national anthem being played, because you’ve won. That was a significant win.”

There were many others in a glittering career. Finsceal Beo’s Irish Guineas, Finsceal Beo’s English Guineas, and a head away from a French Guineas and a treble that was without precedent.

Teofilo, all that he achieved at two, five from five, including a National Stakes and a Dewhurst, a champion’s temperament, and the frustration of unfulfilled potential, a horse who was built to be a better three-year-old than two-year-old.

Trading Leather, Dawn Approach, Mac Swiney, Pleascach, Poetic Flare, Lush Lashes, five Dewhursts, and New Approach.

“New Approach was a really, really talented horse. I remember the National Stakes, he was always aggressive, but he was really aggressive that day.

“He nearly bolted with me going to the start, and he nearly bolted with me again coming back. But he won as he wanted. That’s the type of talent he had.”

New Approach and Kevin Manning (green) beats Tartan Bearer (Ryan Moore) to win the Derby \ Healy Racing

They lined up in the Derby at Epsom in 2008, having finished second to Henrythenavigator in the English Guineas and in the Irish Guineas, and never having gone beyond a mile before.

Hard time

“New Approach just wanted to go two steps quicker than you wanted him to go at times. He’d take you on, he’d give you a hard time until he got his own way.

“At Epsom, I remember, my biggest worry was going to the start, the shouting and the atmosphere, and I couldn’t get him over near a rail because there were crowds on both sides. He had his pony though, Adrian Taylor did a great job on the pony and we got to the start in one piece.”

Part one accomplished.

“My main thought in the race was to get him settled early. I had him back further in the field than I wanted to be, but I didn’t want to ask him to get closer in case I’d light him up. Seamie (Heffernan on Alesssandro Volta) gave me a brush just where you swing right to swing back left, and that lit him up.

“But the way that he was travelling, the amount of horse that I had underneath me crossing the road early in the home straight, it was unbelievable.”

The worry was that New Approach had expended so much energy through the early stages of the race that he wouldn’t have the requisite reserves of energy at the end of a mile and a half, a half a mile further than he had ever gone before.

But that worry never crossed Kevin Manning’s mind. He just knew the feel that his horse was giving him.

He looked for room towards the outside on the run to the two-furlong marker, but there was none there, so he moved inside.

Down the camber, an unusual route for a Derby closer, the brave route, inside Doctor Freemantle. He got the gap on the inside and settled down to battle it out with Tartan Bearer and Ryan Moore. New Approach stretched his neck out, responded to his rider’s urgings, and hit the line a half a length in front of his rival.

“That was pretty special. From the time that you even think about racing, the Epsom Derby, that’s the race that you always hear about. You dream about it as a kid, but realistically, you don’t think that you have a chance of even riding in it. So to win it. Yeah, that was a very special day.”

He pauses for a second to consider it, to try to put it into words.

“I probably didn’t get very excited about it at the time, to be honest,” he says thoughtfully. “It happened, dream come true. But then you move on to the next thing.”

That’s Kevin Manning. No fuss, no fanfare.

Takes a sip of tea.