Louisa Warde visits Manor House Stables to meet with Chester-born owner and ex-footballer Michael Owen
Mention to anyone that you are interviewing Michael Owen and they immediately think of a sparkling career in football and possibly recollection of that goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup which brought him to the world’s attention at the tender age of 18. Even this household, unconditionally sky blue, would admit he was one of England’s most gifted players.
Today, however, six years since he retired from the beautiful game I am heading further out into the Cheshire countryside to interview the man in question at his horse racing business, Manor House Stables. As I drive down the impressive entranceway to the property, private racing gallops to the left of me, the scene set in front is of a thriving enterprise and a friendly one. Upon parking up I meet up with our photographer, and we are greeted with affection by the yard dogs, a welcoming firm handshake from trainer Tom Dascombe, a morning black coffee courtesy of Jennie and a lesson in horse racing by two owners who happen to be sharing reception with us just to make sure that we had done our homework.
Set in 170 acres, Manor House Stables was converted from a grain store and cattle barn by Michael and his wife, Louise, before it began life as a training yard with 30 horses in 2007. Further investment means that today the stables can accommodate up to 90 horses, has an impressive glass fronted owners’ lounge, swimming pool and many more state-of-the-art facilities that makes it top of its game.
I know more about his “pretty good career” – his words not mine – but little about his link to horse racing and once settled across the table from him that is the first thing I ask. “I’ve always had links to horse racing really. Since I played at Deeside, I’d be heading home from a Saturday match with dad, and we’d stop off to pop a bet on, and I’d inevitably pop next door to buy something with my pocket money.
“It was the 80s then, so there was very little sport on the telly. Maybe a bit of Ski Sunday but there was horse racing, and I’d be keen to watch how dad’s horses did. So, yes, it’s pretty much always been a part of my life.
“Then, when I played in the England team my interest grew to more than simply popping a bet on. I was chatting to David Platt, who owned horses at the time, and he suggested I look into owning my own horse. And that was that. The bug well and truly bit me. One horse turned
into two and then ten… and so on.
“When it got to 24 horses in training it got a bit expensive, writing big cheques out each month. So, we had the idea of setting up our own business training horses for other owners as well as ourselves. And that was when we bought Manor House Stables.
“I liken it to when you are a young footie fan, and all you want to do is absorb information about your team and key players. You don’t simply want to know which is their favoured foot; you want to know everything about them. It’s not just enough to watch them. That’s how it was, and still is, for me owning horses. I was fortunate to find another passion in my life and have it in the pipeline during my career so that I could pick it up as a business fulltime after football.”
We discuss the management and genuine care of young sportspeople today, with entourages and agents who, quite often, in my humble opinion of minimal knowledge, seem to be out for themselves more than their clients. Indeed, in following his passion for horse racing, Michael touches on this: “At the start of the business, I was running it hand in hand with my career, and I was criticised for it. You can’t win. If I weren’t doing that, I’d have been criticised for being a dumb footballer!”
And this brings us onto more debate and one of his other business commitments, Michael Owen Management Limited which manages young footballers. Brought to the fore even more so as the day before this interview Michael was working for BT Sport commentating on the Youth FA CUP Final between Man City and Liverpool. “There’s lots of people who will manage your money, but not so many people that really understand what it’s like.” And we settle on agreeing that more should be done and swiftly return to the brief I was given for this interview – horse racing.
With so much going on I have to ask where he finds the time to be at the stables, where he is clearly, in his element and if he has any plans actually to slow down. I am greeted with an emphatic “No way. I am embracing the final year of my thirties!
“Whenever I have a spare moment you can find me here. I love it.” But his management style is hands-off. “The worst thing you can do is interfere with the professionals. I’d never tell Tom how to train a horse. The best thing you can do is employ the best and trust them.” Good advice sir.
And so the conversation turns to the imminent Boodles May Festival at Chester Racecourse [which will have taken place by the time this interview reaches you I’m afraid, so I have no hot tips beyond the advice that you should always look at the horse who has the inside rail – noted].
“The May Festival is a sign that summer is here,” he says with a smile and bright eyes. “We will definitely be the most represented stable with 15 horses running. We’ve had some results at the top level too, so we can definitely dine at the top table. We are the local yard for Chester too, so that adds something special. Being a local lad, it’s in our business and hearts.
“What I love most though and is something I hope attracts people to the stables, is the social side. The social scene is a huge part of racehorse ownership, and I love to see our owners having a great time and supporting each other at the courses. It feels like we’re part of a team or club and while results are great, the people are just as important."
Manor House Stables LLP, Shay Lane, Hampton, Malpas, Cheshire, SY14 8AD
t: +44 (0)1948 820485