Football players and horse racing: From racegoers to big time owners

Features | 21st May 2021

Football and horseracing have always had strong links. Many players are often seen enjoying a day at the races in their spare time but some have gone much further having fallen in love with the sport.

Here’s a few football stars who have also made a name for themselves in the ‘Sport of Kings’.

Antoine Griezmann

Current player at Barcelona

Antoine Griezmann horse racing

World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann – one of the stars of the French National team – is steadily picking up racing trophies to go alongside his football medals.

The Barcelona striker, who inherited his love of racing from his father Alain, was at Chantilly in 2017 to see Enable win her first Arc de Triomphe.

He has since become a regular in the winners’ enclosures of France’s top tracks as an owner. Tornibush won four races, including a Group 3 at Longchamp, in 2018 and he has continued to add to his string, trained near Lyon by Philippe Decouz.

tornibush winning the Group 3 winning the Qatar Prix du Pin at Longchamp
Tornibush winning the Group 3 winning the Qatar Prix du Pin at Longchamp

Hooking is unbeaten in two starts this year after wins at Chantilly and Longchamp, while Krishnadargent and Natsukashi have also been successful.

The 30‐year‐old also has a team of trotting horses as his enthusiasm for racing grows. So much so he was recently unveiled as an ambassador for the PMU – France’s equivalent of the Tote.

Sir Alex Ferguson

There was little that Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t win in his 26 years as manager of Manchester United. He led the Red Devils to a record 13 league titles, two Champions League wins and five FA Cups in a glorious career before retiring in 2013.

His love of racing if well known. One of his earliest horses was Candleriggs, named after a street in his native Glasgow.

The best horse to carry his familiar red‐and‐white colours was 2000 Guineas hero Rock Of Gibraltar. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, he won seven Group 1 races but the winning streak led to acrimony and legal disputes with John Magnier over who actually owned the horse.

More recently, Sir Alex has been involved with jumpers. He is co‐owner of dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux. Trained by Paul Nicholls, he formed part of a sensational Ferguson treble when successful on the opening day of Aintree’s Grand National meeting last month.

Sir Alex Ferguson horse racing
Sir Alex Ferguson, Harry Cobden and Paul Nicholls at the 2021 Grand National Festival

Alvaro Odriozola

Current player at Real Madrid 

Most footballers dream of winning the most prestigious cups for club and country. Spanish international Alvaro Odriozola is no different but the Real Madrid full‐back also harbours ambitions of winning horse racing’s greatest prizes.

The 25‐year‐old, who won a Champions League winners’ medal when on‐loan at Bayern Munich last year, admits he has been obsessed with horses since he was a young lad. His passion for racing was fuelled by visits to courses in his hometown San Sebastian and in Madrid.

He has a team of horses at his Bernardo Stables in San Sebastian with Danko and El Ingrato successful at Spanish tracks this year. His intention is to develop a stud and start breeding his own horses.

His ambition to enter racing’s premier league is obvious after Gaheris finished a promising sixth at Dundalk in November. It was his first horse trained by Joseph O’Brien and it is unlikely to be his last as he chases his ultimate racing dream to win the Arc de Triomphe.

Harry Redknapp

Harry Redknapp’s life‐long passion for horse racing came thanks to his nan. She was the bookies’ runner in the East End street where she lived in London and Redknapp became fascinated by the bets she placed at a time when off‐course betting was still illegal.

During a successful career as, first a player, and then a manager with Bournemouth, West Ham, Portsmouth and Southampton, among others, he always followed racing.

He has owned some decent horses including smart sprinter Moviesta and useful hurdler Shakem Up’Arry.

Redknapp chose his blue, red and white racing colours carefully in an attempt to keep fans of all his former clubs happy, while his team of horses attempt to put a smile on punters’ faces.

Michael Owen

As a footballer, Michael Owen played for some of the world’s biggest clubs. Fans of Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester United all got see Owen banging in the goals for their respective teams.

His 40 goals for England – scored in 89 appearances for his country – has been bettered by only Wayne Rooney, Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves so his place as one of the great strikers is assured.

His success as an owner and breeder of racehorses hasn’t quite hit those heights but he has enjoyed plenty of big‐race victories since creating Manor House Stables from cattle sheds in 2007. The state‐of‐the‐art base near Malpas in Cheshire is home to trainer Tom Dascombe.

The pair have enjoyed plenty of wins together but it was Treble Heights, trained by John Gosden, who was the key factor that led to Owen setting up his racing operation.

She was useful on the track winning the Listed Aphrodite Stakes at Newmarket in 2003 but she was more important as a broodmare as she gave birth to Brown Panther. He gave Owen and Dascombe a taste of Classic glory when landing the Irish St Leger having earlier been successful at Royal Ascot.

There were also wins in the Goodwood Cup and the Dubai Gold Cup but Owen’s most treasured victory came in the Ormonde Stakes. The Group 3 prize is run at his hometown track, Chester, where his dad first took him racing as a young boy.

Charlie Austin

Current player at QPR on loan from West Brom

Growing up a few furlongs from Lambourn, one of the main racehorse training centres, Charlie Austin was bitten by the racing bug at an early age. The 31‐year‐old striker first caught the eye of football scouts playing for his local sides Kintbury Rangers and Hungerford.

Having gone on to a successful career knocking in the goals for the likes of Swindon Town, Burnley, Queen’s Park Rangers, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion, his love of racing acted as a release from the pressures of Premier League football.

Austin was introduced to racing by his grandfather Ozzy. He has owned racehorses for seven years since his first horse, Miss Sophierose, won a bumper on her debut at Worcester.

Charlie Austin horse racing
Miss Sophierose winning a bumper at Worcester in 2014

At one point, Austin had more than a dozen running under the banner of Excel Racing, the syndicate he founded, with Dubai winner Another Batt taking him to some of the world’s biggest meetings.

Another Batt and Silvestre De Sousa winning the 2018 Abbey Logistics Handicap Stakes at Chester

Mick Channon

Few people are talented enough to rise to the top of the tree in professional sport. Mick Channon has done it in two completely different pursuits. His 228 goals for Southampton from 608 appearances is a record unlikely to be broken by any Saints player.

His prolific goalscoring helped him earn 46 England caps in the 1970s alongside the likes of his great friends Kevin Keegan and Alan Ball, who were both later to have horses with their England teammate.

Channon has always had an interest in racing. While still playing football he bred Jamesmead, the winner of what is now the Betfair Hurdle, from his first horse as an owner, Cathy Jane.

After his playing days were over he became assistant trainer to John Baker and Ken Cunningham-Brown before taking out his own training licence in 1990. Such was his success he was able to buy to the prestigious West Ilsley Stables ‐ where Dick Hern trained dozens of big‐race winners – from the Queen.

Channon trained his first Classic winner when Samitar won the Irish 1,000 Guineas in 2012. Piccolo, Zafeen and Queen’s Logic were all among his Group 1 victories but arguably his best horse completed a rather unique hat‐trick.

Youmzain was runner‐up in the Arc de Triomphe for three consecutive years, going down by an agonising head to Dylan Thomas in the first of them in 2007.

Micky Quinn

Growing up in Liverpool, Mick Quinn was always in the right place to become a footballer. He was a lethal striker for the likes of Portsmouth, Newcastle and Coventry in the 1980s and 90s when his goalscoring exploits and rather substantial frame made him a cult hero among supporters.

The title of his autobiography ‘Who Ate All The Pies?’ was taken from one particular terrace chant aimed in the direction of the three‐times Golden Boot winner. When he hung up his boots for the final time in 1996, Quinn had racked up an impressive 235 goals from 524 games in a career that had started at Wigan Athletic.

Credit: Action Images
Credit: Christopher Dean

Encouraged by seeing the way Mick Channon had made a success of moving from football to racing, Quinn, an enthusiastic punter in his playing days, set out to become a trainer.

Now based in Newmarket, he has trained more than 100 winners with smart sprinter Angus Newz, prolific winner Great Hall and smart hurdler Pink Sheets among the best he has handled. The 59‐year‐old now combines training with TV and radio work.

Thomas Muller

Current player at Bayern Munich 

World Cup winner Thomas Muller and his wife Lisa are one of sport’s glamour couples. The Bayern Munich attacker is Germany’s most decorated footballer with 29 trophies in his cabinet, while Lisa is a top dressage rider.

Muller, who has twice helped his club side to the treble of the Bundesliga, DFB‐Pokal Cup and Champions League, clearly has an eye on becoming more involved with horses himself when he retires from football.

The 31‐year‐old is managing director of the stables he owns with his wife in Germany. They are currently expanding their breeding operation with their team of stallions.