Coolmore (Part two - the growth of an empire)

Filed on 26 Apr 2006 @ 11:13

Read on for the final part in our series on Coolmore.

This February, at Calder in Florida, Irish vet Demi O'Byrne, bidding for a syndicate from Coolmore Stud, shattered the record price for a thoroughbred set more than 20 years earlier when paying $16.1 million for a two-year-old colt by Forestry. The youngster was named The Green Monkey and, as with Seattle Dancer, who set the previous benchmark of $13.1 million, the Maktoum family of Dubai were underbidders to John Magnier's team. Not much had changed, it seemed, during the intervening period.

Coolmore had continued to grow in scale, although these days it has a rival bidding to develop a global stallion operation, in the shape of Sheikh Mohammed's Darley.

Most of the one-time key players have gone

And while a now 58-year-old John Magnier is still very much at Coolmore's helm - indeed he is now proprietor of the vast stud operation as well as the Ballydoyle training stables - most of the other one-time key players have either taken a back seat or passed away. Robert Sangster, has lost a courageous fight against cancer, while Vincent O'Brien spends much of his time in Australia. Another, unrelated O'Brien, Aidan - a native of Wexford who had shown exceptional skill initially training jumpers - was installed by Magnier at Ballydoyle following his namesake's retirement in 1994.

Influx of new blood

By the mid 1980s, Magnier and his team were less conspicuous in the sale ring. Sangster raced mainly home-breds and his interests at Coolmore were much reduced by the time of his death. New stallions came from other sources. Danehill was an inspired purchase from Prince Khalid Abdullah for a mere £4 million in 1989, while others were bought from owners such as Lord Howard de Walden, one-time Coolmore partner Stavros Niarchos, Daniel Wildenstein and Lord Weinstock.

A new chapter was added to the Coolmore story in 1995. London-born, Monaco-based Michael Tabor, a well-known rails bookmaker who had some spare capital after selling his Arthur Prince betting-shop chain, was holidaying in Barbados and met Magnier and former Coolmore vet Demi O'Byrne, the man who had travelled with Nijinsky when he won the 1970 Triple Crown.

O'Byrne, a native of Co Waterford from another famous family of horsemen, bought American Classic contender Thunder Gulch privately for Tabor in 1995 and the colt went on to win both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.

Magnier became a major player again with new partner Tabor

Magnier became a major player again at the top yearling sales with his new partner Tabor, advised by O'Byrne. In 1995, they bought three of the top four lots at Keeneland in July and a Sadler's Wells colt who jointly topped Tattersalls' Houghton Sale at 600,000gns. That colt was named Entrepreneur and marked the arrival of Magnier in a role he had previously not publicised - as a major racehorse owner - when winning the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

In the same year, Aidan O'Brien had his first Classic successes in Ireland's 2000 Guineas and Derby with Desert King, also owned by the Tabor/Magnier partnership.

Those victories opened the floodgates to a string of other successes sporting either Tabor's blue and orange silks or the plain dark blue colours of Magnier's wife Sue. Epsom Derby heroes Galileo and High Chaparral, champions and Classic winners such as Giant's Causeway, Montjeu, Rock Of Gibraltar, Hurricane Run, Stravinsky, Fasliyev, Hawk Wing, Johannesburg, Milan, Brian Boru and Footstepsinthesand mean that Coolmore is once again producing its own stallions, while talented fillies such as Imagine, Shahtoush and Virginia Waters have enhanced an already blue-blooded broodmare band.

Friends reunited

Derrick Smith has joined forces with Magnier and Tabor in purchases from the 2004 and 2005 yearling sales, as well as in the $16.1 million breeze-up colt. An old friend of Tabor's who at one time manned Ladbrokes' racecourse pitches, Smith is now based in Barbados where he, along with his two partners, has amassed a fortune from trading in currencies. Indeed, these days, for Magnier, Coolmore is just one of many business enterprises. With partners such as top jumps owner JP McManus, Smith, Dublin financier Dermot Desmond and Horseracing Ireland chairman Denis Brosnan, he has a myriad other interests.

Coolmore is now more than the rambling couple of hundred acres Magnier took over in 1975

He famously, with McManus, owned a 28.7 per cent stake in Manchester United football club, which was sold to American tycoon Malcolm Glazer. The pair have also invested in the Barchester chain of nursing homes, a property company that owns Unilever House in London, leisure clubs, including the Chelsea Harbour Club, and the Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados.

Yet Coolmore is now far more than the rambling couple of hundred acres taken over by Magnier in 1975. Neighbouring farms have gradually been added in Co Tipperary and Co Cork to bring the acreage into thousands, including also Ballydoyle and the Longfield Stud training establishment occupied by Magnier's son-in-law David Wachman.

Innovative stuff

Two innovations pioneered by Magnier, at first frowned upon by traditionalists and now the industry norm, were the covering of huge books of mares and shuttling stallions to the southern hemisphere often to double their annual earning potential. Along with one of America's most-profitable stallion stations, Ashford Stud in Kentucky, Coolmore also runs one of the southern hemisphere's most prestigious farms in Australia's Hunter Valley.

As well as its own flagship stallions, including Sadler's Wells, Giant's Causeway and Montjeu, Coolmore has breeding rights and shares in many other top sires, including Storm Cat and Kingmambo. Since Caerleon lifted the British and Irish sires' championship in 1988, the title has only once failed to go to Coolmore. Caerleon scored again in 1991, Sadler's Wells took 14 titles, while Danehill posthumously scored in 2005.

Coolmore's key personnel have changed. Gay O'Callaghan, whose brother Tony is married to John Magnier's sister, long ago left to become one of the most successful modern-day pinhookers, as well as running his own successful stallion farm at Morristown Lattin Stud. The staff line-up, built up over two decades, however, remains the envy of all its rivals.

Winning team

General manager Christy Grassick is a supreme diplomat from a famous racing family, while Magnier's right-hand man is Paul Shanahan, a cousin of Tabor's adviser Demi O'Byrne, and someone who worked his way through the farm's ranks. Vet John Halley, who runs a practice with O'Byrne, is on hand racing with all the major Ballydoyle runners, and the stud employs two first-class financial brains in Eddie Irwin and Clem Murphy. The marketing, which is such a crucial component at Coolmore, is handled by the Fethard-based Primus Advertising agency run by Richard Henry.

Magnier's vision has been more successful than perhaps he could ever have hoped

There are many other advisers, including that famed horseman Timmy Hyde, who pinhooks successfully in partnership with Shanahan, while a large number of Magnier's mares are owned in partnership with his old school friend David Nagle at his Barronstown Stud in Co Wicklow. The Coolmore story will have many more chapters, and some will undoubtedly bring about a feeling of deja vu. But Magnier can look back with satisfaction that his vision of producing future stallions has been more successful than perhaps he could ever have hoped and, in the process, it has played a major part in the growth of Ireland's thriving economy.

Filed on 26 Apr 2006 @ 11:13