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.

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