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The legendary Limerick horse, Istabraq celebrated his 32nd birthday at Martinstown Stud, on Thursday, May 23, 2024. Picture: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick

Legendary Limerick horse, Istabraq celebrated his 32nd birthday at Martinstown Stud, a celebration of the legacy he left on the Limerick community

Istabraq pictured with JP and Noreen McManus at Martinstown Stud. Picture: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick

The legendary Limerick horse, Istabraq celebrated his 32nd birthday at Martinstown Stud, on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in celebration of the legacy and mark he left on the worlds of horse racing and the Limerick community.

Istabraq, the three-time Champion’s Hurdle winner booked a place in horse racing history books with a career from 1996 until his retirement in 2002 and has since been enjoying life at Martinstown Stud.

The 32-year-old champion was celebrated by close friends and enthusiasts on the day, including owner JP McManus, trainer Aidan O’Brien, Charlie Swan who was his jockey for each of his races, and Limerick hurling manager John Kiely who shares a birthday with Istabraq.


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JP McManus expressed his delight at the celebration, telling I Love Limerick, “I feel great, he’s looking great, best of health and I’m sure he’s been looking forward to this day.”

Looking back at Istabraw’s contribution to Limerick’s sporting legacy, he added, “He was very, very special to me and all my family. I’m very lucky that he’s had a long and healthy life, and hopefully, we’re here again next year.”

John Kiely, Limerick Manager who shares a birthday with the horse pictured with Lara Hegarty. Picture: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick

One Limerick sporting legend sharing the special day with Istabraq is Limerick hurling manager John Kiely, he spoke to I Love Limerick about the influence of the horse which could be seen around Limerick at the time of his triumph.

John Kiely said, “He’s a legend of a horse. There’s no two ways about it. So, quite happy to share my birthday with a horse. There are pictures of Istabraq in most of my in-laws’ homes, you know, they’re interested in the horses.

“So I was well aware of Istabraq 25 years ago, it’s great to see him still going. It’s a fantastic age for an animal he’s in great shape actually and he’s something special.”

Retirement has been an enjoyable time for Istabraq, and it can be seen in the  meticulous care he receives from his Groom, Lara Hegarty who spoke to Richard Lynch while hand-feeding Istabraq his carrots.

“I love it. I absolutely love it,” Lara shared, she continued, “He’s spoiled rotten every day and everything he wants he gets. To get a horse to 30 is unbelievable; 31 and now 32, it’s just amazing.”

Istabraq’s achievements on the track are legendary, winning the Champion Hurdle three consecutive times in 1998, 1999, and 2000 is a testament to his exceptional ability. He is also recorded as the first Irish and British horse to win more than 1 million pounds in prize money.

legendary Limerick horse, Istabraq celebrated his 32nd birthday at Martinstown Stud, a celebration of his legacy
Charlie Swan, who was Istabraq’s jockey pictured with trainer Aidan O’Brien. Picture: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick

His ability was echoed in Lara’s words when she said, “But if you watch his races, I mean, he was unbelievable. Obviously, I’m biased, but if you compare him to other horses now he was a serious horse.”

The celebration was also a moment to acknowledge the incredible care Istabraq has received over the years. His trainer, Aidan O’Brien said, “There’s no doubt. The reason is JP and Noreen and everybody here and the care and the attention that he gets.

“To see him in the shape he is is just absolute testimony to them. I don’t think any horse anywhere in the world could ever get that kind of attention.”

Charlie Swan, Istabraq’s jockey during those triumphant years, reflected on the thrill of riding him, telling Richard Lynch of I Love Limerick, “It was brilliant. He was brilliantly trained by Aidan O’Brien. Any time I rode him, it was amazing how much he improved, he was always at his best during the Champion Hurdles. He was an easy horse to ride. I just had to really steer him.”

Istabraq’s success in the late 90s and early 2000s brought a great pride to Limerick and put the county on the map in the world of horse racing, his success inspired many future jockeys, trainers, owners, and enthusiasts.

As the celebration continued at Martinstown Stud, the love and affection for Istabraq was more than evident and now at 32 years of age, he still remains a symbol of excellence in the sport.

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Read more JP McManus stories here

Pictures: Olena Oleksienko/ilovelimerick

Richard is a presenter, producer, songwriter and actor. He was named the Limerick Person of the Year (2011) and won an online award at the Metro Éireann Media and Multicultural Awards (2011) for promoting multi-culturalism online. Richard says that the ilovelimerick.com concept is very much a community driven project that aims to document life in Limerick. So, that in 20 years time people can look back and remember the events that were making the headlines.