Pass Play - by Dan Liebman

Money doesn’t guarantee success in the horse business (or any other business, for that matter). Many have invested huge amounts in the industry, some with great success, yet others have realized only limited return on investment.

No one really knows which mating will work best, or which hip number in a sale will pan out to be the top runner.

But money doesn’t hurt, either.

Bob McNair is a billionaire, so he certainly qualified as having enough money to become a serious player in the Thoroughbred business.

Sadly, because the demands of running a professional football franchise are taking more and more of his time, McNair and his wife, Janice, have announced they are selling their Stonerside horses and farm to the richest man in the game, Sheikh Mohammed.

The McNairs bought their first horse, Southern Truce, in 1993, and in the ensuing 15 years, have bred more than 40 stakes winners solely or in partnership, including six grade/group I winners—Bob and John, Congaree, Country Star, Fusaichi Pegasus, No Matter What, and The Cliff’s Edge.

In addition to breeding grade I winners, the McNairs have experienced other highs in the game, from winner’s circles to sale rings. They raced 10 grade I winners, including champion Chilukki, and in partnership, classic winner Touch Gold. With Arthur Hancock III, they twice sold the highest-priced yearling, at the 1998 Keeneland July sale ($4-million Fusaichi Pegasus) and 2003 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale ($2.7-million War Cry).

Bob McNair had the money but not the expertise. For that, he primarily turned to two men: Hancock, who sold them the property adjacent to his Stone Farm that became the foundation for the McNairs’ Stonerside Farm; and John Adger, who managed the couple’s extensive breeding and racing operation and made the fortuitous decision in 1997 to purchase for them the 35 broodmares owned at the time by Elmendorf Farm.

That the McNairs’ 2,000-acre farm near Paris, Ky., training center in Aiken, S.C., approximately 80 horses in training, and 170 broodmares, yearlings, and weanlings were purchased as a package by Darley should come as no surprise. Only a few people have the resources to make such a purchase, and there was already a relationship between the two parties.

Early last year, the McNairs sold their 106-acre farm and training center adjacent to Saratoga racecourse to Darley for $17.4 million. The McNairs purchased the property from the estate of John Hay and Betsey Whitney in the late 1990s and never had horses on it, leasing the property before selling it.

Also last year, the McNairs sold an interest in their juvenile group winner Raven’s Pass to Darley. Raven’s Pass is by Elusive Quality, who stands at Darley, and Darley also stands E Dubai, bred in partnership by Stonerside and out of a full sister to the dam of Raven’s Pass.

This is the second such purchase by Sheikh Mohammed in 2008: he spent more than $400 million to buy the Ingham brothers’ Woodlands Stud operation in Australia that included farms, training centers, and more than 500 horses. No purchase price was released for the Stonerside package, but it is certainly on the same grand scale.

Bob McNair founded Cogen Technologies Energy Group, the largest privately owned cogeneration company in the United States, in 1994. He sold the company to Enron for $1.5 billion in 1999. He bought the NFL Houston Texans the same year for $700 million.

Money also does not guarantee success in major league sports, the largest payroll not always equating to the most trophies.

Under coach Dom Capers, the Texans went 18-46 from 2002 to 2005, after which Gary Kubiak was brought in as coach. He posted the team’s first .500-season last year, 8-8, after going 6-10 his first year at the helm.


Leave a Comment:


This information we have read in the news.

I usually like your column because it brings light into particular issues or you give an opinion from an expert point of view. Or you talk about stories we didn't know about.

In this one I can't make out a clear conclusion.

It makes you wonder what it is exactly about.

A foreigner buying an american enterprise?

A billionaire chooses football over the thoroughbred industry?


03 Sep 2008 7:10 PM

Hello Dan...If one can comprehend the jist of your current op-ed piece.....I believe what you are saying is that the McNair Family has an greater passion and interest for their professional football francise which cost them $700mm vis-a-vis their interest in the thoroughbred industry..not only from an racing but an breeding platform...Perhaps one of the reasons for this decision is that on any given Sunday..there are more fans filling his stadium..both home and away than at the racetracks where he is racing...Of course the football season is appreciably shorter than year-round racing..But the games are indeed virtually sold out and the attendance is more consistant. Again..all hypothectical..Its also much easier communicating w/ego driven players and their Jerry McGuire type agents than w/his equine stars and their enigmatic trainers..If healthy..the players will be on the field for years to the equine gladiators are off to the breeding shed after their 3 year old career..if not sooner..No one will ever know the deep and personal reason(s) for their decision..However what has to be done now is to attempt to replace them..the McNairs w/someone whom is equally passioned about the game and is financially structured..Thank you always Dan for the window..Best regards..Steve Stone..East Hanover..New Jersey

03 Sep 2008 10:34 PM

the two of them have half of all the duckies in the world...a Triple Crown they don't have...Long Live The Dirt!!!

04 Sep 2008 1:22 AM

I think the penultimate paragraph is the message here.  Money doesn't guarantee anything. Nor does expertise.  It just puts the odds in your favor.  Luck is still the intangible element that can be the difference between success and failure.  A horse wins or loses a major stake by a nose and the future stud value can be dramatically affected. Lots of times these results are attributable to racing luck and you cannot buy luck.

04 Sep 2008 1:11 PM


Do you think the NFL put pressure on the McNairs to get out of the horse racing business because of the gambling aspect?

05 Sep 2008 7:32 AM

Breeding to race is in the best interests of the game. Turning horse racing into an industry has ruined the sport.

05 Sep 2008 11:45 AM

I sincerly doubt the largest illegal gambling operation in the world, the NFL has any problems with the gambling aspect of horse racing. I think it has everything to do with time, the time to manage, to enjoy and to once in a while relax. Darley does a great job of caring for the land and the properties are in no danger of turning into Hamburg Place II, the retail hell of Central Kentucky.

05 Sep 2008 8:32 PM
Old Timer

 I fear we're in the last days of Horse racing in America ,  very soon ALL the Good Horse flesh and farms will be owned by Sheikh Mohammed and family. America will be left with his culls. It takes BIG Money today to keep race horses and Almost All the rich old sportsman who were In it for the "Fun and Glory" are dead , I know Ive been watching them die off for 50 years now.

Its sad But I can see a time when All that will be left in America are a oouple thousand broken down claimers running at the few tracks that are left in My Day there were over 200 race tracks in North America .Horses Ran 15-25 Times a year even alot of Champs . People actually dressed Up to go to the track . Today its Just a Business , one that's Losing Tons a Money and Fans every year. Horse racing at one time was "The Premier Sport" in America right along side baseball . The Newspapers actually wrote about it in the sport sections everyday , course not many News Papers left in America , Maybe that's the Problem what America needs is a Good TEN CENT Newspaper !  

06 Sep 2008 4:26 AM

My worry for the thoroughbred   industry  is what happens after Sheik Mohammed( the sport's biggest benefactor) dies.Don't forget his brother died just last year.

08 Sep 2008 9:29 AM

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