John Magnier: “Softest spot are his teeth”


When an Irishman beats an Arab sheik in a no-holds barred auction for a horse you just have to find out more about the winner of this multi-million dollar shoot out.

Yesterday in Florida John Magnier, owner of the Coolmore Stud in County Tipperary got the better of a bidding war with Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin team to smarh th world record for a thoroughbred bought at auction.

The bidding began at $3 million for the son of the leading American stallion Foreestry and ended when Magnier’s representative had the final nod at $16 million.

So who is John Magnier and how did he make his fortune.

Born in 1948, the son of “well to do” farmers, he grew up near Fermoy in County Cork where his family had been breeding horses since the 1850s. His mother, Evie Stockwell, who ran the family stud after the death of Magnier’s father, was a particularly formidable figure and a close friend of Ireland’s most successful trainer, Vincent O’Brien. The connection between the families was cemented when Magnier married O’Brien’s daughter, Susan.

Magnier’s breakthrough was to realise that the “gentlemanly pursuit” of breeding and owning thoroughbreds could be “professionalised to generate big returns. His eureka was to do it as a business, not a pastime.

Certainly, conditions in Ireland in the early 1970s couldn’t have been better: in 1969, finance minister Charles Haughey, a friend of Magnier,  had pushed through legislation giving stud fees tax-free status. Magnier saw his chance, and went for it.    

He teamed up with Robert Sangster, heir to the Vernon football pools fortune, they brought in “training genius” Vincent O’Brien and in 1975 they took over Coolmore Stud.

The business plan was based on Magnier’s conviction that the big pay-off in racing no longer lay in prize money, but “in the breeding barn”. “If you don’t have the semen,” he said, “you don’t have the industry.”

The rest is history. Today Magnier, who at one time was a major shareholder in Manchester United FC and a possible bidder for the club for the takeover by the Glazer family, is one of the richest men in Europe.

Although he made his fortune breeding champion race horses, his shrewdness and toughness would have taken him to the top of any business. “The softest thing about Magnier,” it is often said, “is his teeth.”

Thanks for reading Big Business.

David Davis


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