Michael Owen: Hooked on the horses

Former striker who has a growing set of stables tells Brian Viner why the buzz of a Goodwood win will rival finding the net

If Brown Panther should win the Goodwood Cup – and there is a decent chance that he will – then it will not afford his 33-year-old, multimillionaire owner the biggest thrill of a sporting life that has already encompassed two late goals in the FA Cup final to overturn a 1-0 deficit, the winner in a Manchester derby, a hat-trick against Germany in Munich and, of course, one of the greatest individual goals ever scored in the World Cup.

No, the biggest thrill was when Brown Panther won the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot two summers ago. Not that it eclipsed Michael Owen's prodigious goalscoring feats as a footballer with a rare instinct for finding the back of the net, but the satisfaction was deeper.

"I'd bred him myself, I had a real emotional attachment, so it was special," Owen recalls, smiling even now. "When you score a goal in a major game, there's pure adrenalin and excitement for 10 seconds, and that's something you can't replicate. But in racing there's a nervousness, a feeling of emptiness that comes with having no control. So when your horse performs to its best, and wins, it's just incredible. It might be a rush of relief more than adrenalin. But it's just as addictive."

Owen is talking at the London offices of the British Horseracing Authority, having agreed to become an ambassador for the Qipco British Champions Series – featuring all the Flat's greatest races – as he plots a career that will no longer involve warming the bench for Stoke City or anyone else. He is certain that he could still do a job for a Premier League club, but concedes he was finding it dispiritingly hard against defenders he could once have given the runaround. It was time to retire.

Football will still dominate his working life. He will be a co-commentator for BT Sport and has started a management company, intending to pass on to top young players his own experiences of the pitfalls that come with becoming rich and famous in your teens. But he will also devote increasing time to Manor House Stables in Cheshire, which was a 170-acre arable farm when he bought it six years ago and installed stables and a gallop.

Now, trainer Tom Dascombe has more than 90 horses there, and Owen has sold half of the operation to the co-founder of Betfair, Andrew Black. Manor House will never be Ballydoyle or Godolphin, but they are burgeoning players in the Flat racing game. Owen's love of racing began at the knee of his father, Terry. "My dad would have a 50p bet on three horses every Saturday and I'd look in the paper next day to see how his picks did. After a while I was allowed my own picks, which was how I started looking out for certain jockeys, certain trainers."

Football then gave him the means to do what very few boyhood racing enthusiasts are able to; at 18, the age he was when he scored that wonder goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup, he became an owner. "It was never really my intention. I loved racing, but I didn't feel as if it was within touching instance. Anyway, I knew David Platt, who had horses with John Gosden down in Newmarket. He said, 'Why don't you buy one?' It had honestly never entered my head, but the following week I went down to see John, and like all good salesmen he brought two out and told me to take my pick. I bought them both. I paid 40 grand for one, and about 55 grand for the other."

These were Talk To Mojo and Etienne Lady, the former named for members of Owen's family (the letters were their initials), and the latter after St Etienne, where he had so memorably – and lucratively – breached the Argentina defence. Both won races for him, but the horse that really captivated him was acquired later, a mare called Treble Heights.

"She's the one who's probably given me the most excitement. Seeing her win first time out at Chester, my home track, was something special. I was sat there in the stand, and she came round that corner, still sat there on the bridle, and I thought, 'Oh my God, she's going to win'. That gave me a massive buzz. And she's also the dam of a couple of nice horses I've got, in particular Brown Panther."

How, though, did ownership of a few racehorses turn into the mini-empire that Owen went on to build?

"At some point I must have looked at the bills coming in, and thought, 'I'm going to be in this game for the rest of my life, do I want to keep paying for all the horses on a monthly basis, or start up my own business having them trained, and maybe train for a few outside owners as well?'

"So we bought the farm, put in 20 stables, then 20 became 40, and I had another decision to make. Should I make it something really permanent or keep it as a bit of fun? I chose the first option, and we've developed Manor House into something pretty smart now. Andrew came in as my partner, and in difficult economic times we're making a steady progression. We've won Group races, been placed in Classics, and while we're still a way from where we want to get, there's progress every year."

In business terms his has been almost the template for a top footballer's career, developing an outside interest while playing that will sustain him, not so much financially as emotionally, in retirement. Racing, he says, gives him the thrill of competition that playing football no longer provides. "And, of course, one you can't do for your whole life, but the other you can."

True enough. Owen has always seemed like a fellow with his head screwed on, despite sporadic reports of a serious gambling habit. Does he still bet? "Yeah. Not as much or as often as I used to, but I get a buzz backing my judgement. I just have a competitive streak. I can't play golf for four hours and not have something on the game."

Who knows how much Owen has won or lost with bookmakers down the years? Probably not even him. But whatever he has taken out of racing, he now insists that he is keen to put something back. "This ambassadorial work really appealed to me," he says. "I have done a lot of deals where you get paid X amount to promote something, and all you have to do is smile for the camera. But this association... there's a synergy there. We want to attract more people to this sport, and once we've got them, keep them."

Michael Owen is an ambassador for the Qipco British Champions Series, which culminates on Champions Day at Ascot on 19 October

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn