Jane Mangan: 'Broadcasting Was Never On My Mind – It Seemed Beyond Me'

Jane Mangan | Tattersalls

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Former amateur rider-turned-television pundit, Jane Mangan is next up in the Starfield Stud-sponsored Conversations series. From her family's approach to breeding to her time working in Ballydoyle and at Primus, Mangan makes for an engaging subject in this week's Q&A with Brian Sheerin.

Brian Sheerin: This year will be remembered for the remarkably strong trade at the sales. Your family's Conna Stud was a beneficiary of the excellent trade when selling a Churchill (Ire) filly for €230,000 at the Orby Sale in September. How did the year go as a whole?

Jane Mangan: The premier sales this year were incredible and we were blessed to have a lovely Churchill filly at this year's Orby Sale. We only have two Flat mares so we realise how lucky we are to even have a yearling good enough to get into that sale. She was bought by Amanda Skiffington for Fiona Carmichael and I believe she will join Fabrice Chappet. Everyone here had a soft spot for 'Rosie,' as she was known, so I hope she is lucky for her new connections. At home, our bread and butter has always been the National Hunt. My head might be in the Flat but my heart will always belong to the National Hunt.

Obviously your Dad Jimmy is a well-respected trainer and your mother Mary plays an integral role in things. How does the breeding side of the operation work?

The best decision Jimmy made in life was to marry Mary! They never stop and have instilled a mindset into all of us that, 'if you're not working, you're wasting'. Breeding is a lifestyle rather than a job and my two brothers Bryan and Patrick are very much involved at home too. Bryan foals all the mares with Dad, Mam takes over when the foals are born and the mating conversations are usually debated over supper. We try to keep our broodmare band to 20 or less and are blessed to be surrounded by some of the best stud farms in Europe down here in Cork.

Are there any stallions who in your opinion are flying under the radar on the Flat or over jumps?

Too many to list! Like most, we breed to pay bills. But if breeders were aiming to win on the track rather than in the ring then I'm sure the return of mares would take a very different shape. Look at it this way, there are 28 races at Cheltenham of which there are usually around 26 different successful stallions. Current sales results don't reflect this reality but breeders know what sells, thus are producing horses to satisfy that thirst.

The Flat game is also guilty when it comes to prioritising the sharp right-handed sales ring rather than that of the Curragh or Longchamp. To think that there are 35 Group 1 races run at ten to twelve furlongs in Europe compared to 13 races at five to six furlongs and we still mass produce the latter. I'm not naïve. I know why but I'm pretty certain that we all recognise this as wrong. Large owner-breeders aside, is it any wonder the Japanese are regularly putting us in our place in these big middle-distance races? 

I see both sides of the coin. We use very reasonably priced sons of Galileo (Ire), Sea The Stars (Ire), Adlerflug (Ger), etc., for our national hunt mares who should really be covering Flat books. Silver linings I suppose.

Monty's Pass (Ire) sadly passed away recently at the grand old age of 29. He gave your family the best day on a racecourse when winning the Grand National in 2003. What are your memories of that historic triumph and what did he mean to the Mangan family?

Monty was our winning lotto ticket who lived here for over 25 years. Read out at the rostrum as 'unsuitable for racing'  as an unbroken store due to a heart murmur, he made all the hard graft worthwhile not just for my parents but for generations of our family who have worked in the industry. I was eight at the time and blissfully unaware, cocooned at home with my grandparents. I just hope his story can give hope that you don't need to spend huge money or have 250 horses in training to unearth the diamond in the rough. We're traders but the fact that no vet would ever pass him meant that he was never sold out of the yard. Many consider that luck. I prefer to think of it as fate.

The National Hunt game is scarcely recognisable now compared to when Monty's Pass won the Grand National. A lot has changed in those 20 years.

The National Hunt game in Ireland has become extremely centralised around two or three superpower yards. That's not their fault but it's not healthy either. Predictable is boring and punters' prices are often slim pickings! There are countless good trainers in this country who are forced to sell and it will take them to find their own investors who are willing to stay loyal for them to retain talent and therefore showcase their ability. Gordon Elliott, Gavin Cromwell, John McConnell have all made themselves from a blank canvas. It can be done.

You burst onto the scene as an amateur and enjoyed notable success but made an early decision to carve out a career in racing but outside of the saddle. Why was that?

I never intended to earn a living as a jockey and no amount of winners would change that mindset. I enjoyed a decent level of success as an amateur while in school and in college but for me, it was the part-time job that every student needs. Some of my friends worked in shops and restaurants, whereas I was racing. Honestly, I wasn't willing to break bones for the cause. That hunger was never there but I enjoyed it immensely, had some special days, made important contacts and learned more on the track than I did in lecture halls!

You're clearly quite passionate about your pedigrees.

In our house, the Tattersalls November Foal Catalogue was our bible. That was and still is our harvest so I would read that cover to cover as a child when I probably should have been looking at Dahl or Dickens. When I was 14 I got my first job away from home with David Wachman, the year Again (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}) won the Irish 1,000 Guineas. I distinctly recall scanning the door cards which had the horse's sire and dam details of which I didn't recognise most names. That is where competitiveness kicks in. I hated not knowing. Not understanding. So we quickly expanded our catalogue collection! That was my first taste of Flat breeding and from there I spent a few summers in Ballydoyle by which time I had enough knowledge to appreciate how incredible it was to be there. I can vividly remember my first lot on the board being a Kingmambo filly out of Alexandrova (Ire). She wasn't a star but I didn't care. If there had been a seed planted, working with those horses made it blossom.

Tell us more about your time working in Ballydoyle. What was it like working for Aidan O'Brien and what were the main things you observed there?

It's been over ten years since I worked my first summer in Ballydoyle and the change from then to now is immense. Most would have the mindset to never change something so successful but maybe that's the key? Evolve with the aim to improve or remain stationary until the competition eventually passes you by. It's a very empowering environment in which to work. Every horse is treated equally regardless of ability, thus every rider and groom feels like they are part of something important, that what they do makes a difference to the end result. Everyone's work must matter. That environment is created from the top down and I venture to think that's what separates the best from the rest. To conquer the peaks and stay at the top for so long, whether it's Aidan O'Brien, John Gosden, Willie Mullins or even Sir Alex Ferguson, they are leaders who can optimise the ability of each member of their team and can adapt to all environments. They know complacency is the enemy of progress. I doubt they dwell on success for too long. Everything is moving forward.

One of your first roles after college was working with Primus. How long did you spend there and what did you enjoy about working there?

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received is, 'surround yourself with the best people. People who challenge you and make you better. They will carry you forward.' With that in mind and considering I wanted to work and learn more about international breeding, where better to go than Fethard? I worked with incredibly knowledgeable people and made some life-long friends during my five years there.

And how did broadcasting come about?

Broadcasting was never in my mind, it just seemed so far beyond me. I grew up watching Tracy Piggott and Clare Balding but the thought would never enter my mind that their career path was a possibility for a girl from Conna. Luckily, someone in RTE disagreed and I think Tracy might have helped behind the scenes too. She had interviewed me at the races on a few occasions and let's just say, I don't think it did any harm! You need to be ready when the door opens and considering I knew my riding days were numbered, my mind was open to all avenues.

Your broadcasting career has gone from strength to strength and you now balance RTE Racing, Racing TV, The Nick Luck Podcast and more. Is that what you set out to work in or has it just happened organically?

The latter. Like I said, five years ago I wouldn't never have ever considered these opportunities possible. Broadcasting on a sport you have lived and breathed is a privilege and frankly, it's our responsibility to entertain and inform. We are the buffer between the public and the product. We're the sales pitch. Especially on the national broadcaster (RTE), every day is an opportunity to grow interest levels and develop the next generation of fans.

Who has been the biggest influence on your broadcasting career and why? Who has offered you the most help and feedback?

My parents have been at the core of every decision, every consideration and all those debates. Dad was my biggest fan and toughest critic when I rode, fitness was everything and every race was replayed at home. He was stunned when I decided to stop. Stunned. Whereas Mam has always embraced change and could see a bigger picture. I like to think they get a kick out of watching me now, it's a different kind of post-racing critique these days but constructive all the same.

Away from broadcasting, you have been busy working with The Thoroughbred Corporation, which is a revival of those famous colours. That must be exciting?

For sure. As a child growing up watching racing, my earliest memories are in graphics and colours. Michael Tabor's blue and orange silks are forever associated with Johannesburg, Hurricane Run (Ire) and Montjeu (Ire). The Aga Khan's green and red always evoke memories of Dalakhani (Ire) and Sinndar (Ire). And those iconic white and green stripes are instantly recognisable too. I recall watching Johar's battle with High Chaparral (Ire) in the 2003 Breeders' Cup, Royal Anthem's dismissal of Greek Dance (Ire) in the Juddmonte International and Oath (Ire) storming down the outside of Daliapour (Ire) at Epsom. Those silks have a rich history. After almost 20 years, they returned to the track in May and I feel very lucky to be working with the team who I was in awe of as a child. It's very much a measured approach with a small but growing team of horses. You can't help but feel excited.

And on the track, what horses are you most looking forward to seeing in 2023?

I'm excited to see how Vadeni (Fr) is campaigned this season. The best of his generation last season, his Arc run was brilliant for a horse who showed so much pace in the Eclipse and Prix du Jockey Club. Wouldn't it be great to see him in a King George? He's the real deal.

As for the Classic generation, the return of Chaldean (GB), Little Big Bear (Ire) and Tahiyra (Ire) would get the juices flowing, wouldn't they? 

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