From the Pitch to the Saddle: Soccer Stars Who Took the Reins of Racing

May 24, 2023

Horse racing and soccer are among the biggest sports in the world, but did you know they occupy two sides of the same pitch? Put simply, there are close ties between racing and soccer. Yes, there have been racehorses named after famous soccer players, such as Ooh Ah Cantona, Zidane, and Messi. However, the ties between racing and soccer are tighter than a few names. There have been plenty of soccer stars that have crossed over to racing.

Many, of course, are fans of horse racing. For example, Sir Alex Ferguson has been spotted at major events in England over the years. In fact, the ex-Manchester United manager is more than a fan. He’s owned a number of racehorses over the years, including 2000 Guineas winner Rock of Gibraltar. Other retired soccer stars have also gone into the ownership game.

Soccer Stars Aren’t Just Owners

Liverpool legends Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman set up the Macca and Growler Partnership. Their horse racing venture featured a stable of quality runners, including Seebald. The National Hunt runner was a regular at the Cheltenham Festival and notched up 15 wins from 55 starts. Other famous players who got into the saddle (figuratively speaking) include Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Joe Cole, and Antoine Griezmann.

One thing that might surprise you is that retired soccer players aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Far from simply owning horses, some crossover stars have become trainers. For example, you might not see his name listed among the latest League One betting odds anymore, but Francis Lee made the leap after his career. You can still see his former club (Bolton Wanderers) listed on the markets as they are priced at 10/3 to be promoted through the playoffs.

As well as setting up a toilet roll manufacturing business, Lee became a racehorse trainer. Among his most successful horses were Sir Harry Hardman, Allwight Then, and Young Jason. Lee retired from racing in 2001 to focus on his business, but his name remains among the greats simply because he was able to find success in two different sports.

The Legend of Mick Channon

The same goes for Mick Channon. The former Southampton striker is a club legend. He made 391 appearances for Southampton and scored 158 goals between 1965 and 1977. Stints at other clubs followed before he returned to Southampton in 1979 to play another 119 games (and 28 goals) over the course of three years. Channon also played for England 46 times before retiring from soccer in 1987.

It was at this point he became a legend in racing. Channon had already bred a winning horse, Jamesmead, while he was playing soccer. However, once he was finished kicking balls, he became an assistant trainer to John Baker and Ken Cunningham-Brown. Channon got his own license in 1990 and, from an initial stable of 10, he went on to drain dozens of winners, including his first Classic champion, Samitar.

Why are there so many ties between racing and soccer? That’s up for debate. The obvious answer is that racing is a great sport and provides enough action to satisfy the competitive urges of soccer stars. Whatever the reasons, the ties have produced some fantastic horses. What’s more, these stories go to show that driven people can find success in all areas of life.

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