Sundance Kid's latest high-stakes gamble - JP McManus seeks $5.2m tax refund
Ireland's eighth wealthiest individual, JP McManus, is seeking a $5.2m tax refund on gambling earnings in the US. Our reporter on the life and times of our most colourful tycoon
It was a horse called Linden Tree that would change JP McManus's life. It was 1970 and he was just 19. Already a keen card player and gambler, he put £4 on the horse who was running at Newmarket, and won the considerable sum of £50. He invested another £4 on the same horse in its next race and bagged £100 when it romped home at 25-1.
The Limerick man often told friends that it was Linden Tree that put him on the road to fortune: today, John Patrick McManus is worth €1.85bn according to the Sunday Independent's Rich List, published last weekend. It makes him the eighth wealthiest Irish individual.
Judicious gambling on both racetrack and on the currency markets coupled with an eye for the next opportunity in hotels and property would mark out McManus as one of the most formidable moneymakers this country has ever seen.
And McManus is in the news once more as he seeks a $5.2m (€4.7m) tax rebate on $17.4m won gambling in the US in 2012. The businessman maintains that the money is exempt from American taxes under the 1997 double-taxation agreement between the US and Ireland. The US tax authority, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is arguing that he was not resident of Ireland at the time.
While such a figure is small potatoes to the billionaire, nicknamed 'The Sundance Kid' thanks to his betting exploits at Cheltenham, it appears as though McManus is up for the fight. Having come through the recession largely unscathed, the 64-year-old is said to be as keen for the next deal as he first was when taking tentative steps into business as a bookmaker while still in his early 20s.
"You have to remember that JP did not come from money, unlike some of the other Irish tycoons you could name," says a Limerick entrepreneur who has dealt with him on occasion. "He had a very ordinary background and he did his fair share of hard, manual labour. I think that experience drives him to this day - he doesn't feel he has a God-given right to anything."
A media professional who has worked in Limerick for many years believes McManus has pulled off the remarkable juggling act of enjoying all the trappings of great wealth, while still being regarded as a man of the people in his home city.
"He built an enormous, ostentatious house at huge expense and travels by corporate jet, yet you won't find one person in Limerick with a bad word to say about him. He's seen as grounded, as one of them, and it's probably because he never forgot where he came from. You'll see him at Championship matches supporting the Limerick hurlers and he's still got the accent."
The house being referred to is reputedly the largest private dwelling in Ireland. Completed in 2006, the mock-Georgian pile has an estimated floorspace of 30,000 sq ft and features nine bedrooms and basement swimming pool. McManus also has a lavish home overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland and a mansion in Barbados.
He also bought a property on Ailesbury Road, Dublin - one of the country's priciest streets - for €10m in 2011. The former home of developer Bernard McNamara, it was considered something of a steal at a time when the property market was in the depths of depression.
Few locals appear to begrudge him such trophies when they consider his largesse when it comes to Limerick. Through the JP McManus Charitable Foundation, he has allocated more than €36m to local projects, including schemes to helped chronically disadvantaged estates like Moyross.
"That's a lot of money and it would be seen as part of the reason why Limerick is doing much better now than it was a decade ago," the professional says. It wasn't so long ago when the unflattering sobriquet of Stab City was routinely attached to the Shannonside city.
The foundation, incidentally, is managed by his daughter Sue Ann Foley, one of three children with his wife Noreen, a former nurse.
"JP is regarded as someone who would have helped others to see Limerick in a positive light, through long-term sponsorship of its GAA teams. And it's not his name on the jerseys, but the non-commercial Sporting Limerick. All that counts for a lot." McManus also helped clear the debt of the Gaelic Grounds - the GAA stadium that has twice the capacity of the nearby rugby headquarters, Thomond Park.
McManus may have grown up in a rugby-obsessed town, but it's hurling that consumes him as much as horse racing. Jockeys riding horses from his Martinstown Stud wear green and yellow silks - the colours of his boyhood GAA club, South Liberties.
A number of his horses have been named after former Limerick greats, including Pat Hartigan and Eamonn Grimes. "You'd hear some people wonder why he wouldn't invest money in Munster rugby, seeing as it's in a transitional phase at the moment, but there's an understanding that it's hurling that's everything to him. I'd say if Limerick were to win the All-Ireland [for the first time since 1973] it would be one of the happiest days of his life."
When McManus and his friend, the financier and racing magnate John Magnier, built up a near 29pc stake in Manchester United in the early 2000s, it was widely commented upon that McManus wasn't especially passionate about football. He had gotten to know Alex Ferguson through a mutual interest in horses, but when Magnier fell out with the ex-manager over the ownership of the horse, Rock of Gibraltar, the pair sold their interest to the club's present owner, Malcolm Glazer.
Golf has also been a feature of McManus's life thanks to his pro-am tournaments, which attracted such luminaries as Tiger Woods during a part of his career where his number one ranking looked unassailable. The next JP McManus Pro-Am will be held in 2018 at the recently restored Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort, which is owned by the businessman.
Last year, he hosted what the Limerick Leader described as "the party of the decade" at Adare Manor to mark the retirement of the jockey AP McCoy, whose extraordinary win rate had made McManus's stud legendary among racing fans.
It is part of a McManus's luxury property portfolio that also includes the Sandy Lane Resort in Barbados, which he owns with Magnier, Dermot Desmond and others.
It's all a long way from Linden Tree.