Tom Magnier with Surrealist

(Photo : The Land)


School Of Management Excellence

8 - 9 July 2013

He is the son of arguably the world’s most powerful Thoroughbred identity, Coolmore principal John Magnier, but Tom Magnier, who prefers to stay firmly out of the limelight, is also every inch a farmer, writes Bronwyn Farr.

The owners of a dairy that neighbours the immaculate Southern Hemisphere arm of Coolmore, a 3642-hectare pocket of rich alluvial country at Jerrys Plains in the Hunter Valley, were surprised recently when a young man with an Irish accent popped by to tell them he’d seen a cow having trouble calving, and after assisting, had moved her into one of their sheds. Later, they learned it was none other than Tom Magnier.

On an impromptu tour of Coolmore, framed by the imposing Wollemi Ranges, Tom is as delighted as any other farmer about recent rain. His public profile, at least in Thoroughbred circles, has increased considerably in recent years, as he has set about purchasing superlative mares such as 2012 Magic Millions broodmare sale headline act Melito, a $1,650,000 buy, and at the same sale a few years earlier, Surrealist (pictured with Tom), for $1.6 million, and Gypsy Dancer, for $1.5 million.

But Tom has been determined to maintain a low-key presence at Coolmore Australia, quietly working in the background, undertaking hands-on stints in various roles on the farm. “I came down for three months in 2000, just before the Sydney Olympics, and my father encouraged me to make Australia home. He believes very strongly the future is here, in Australia, so I worked with yearlings, mares, stallions, basically,” Tom said.

In 1971, aged 23, John Magnier, along with his future father-in-law, the legendary Irish trainer Vincent O’Brien, and the visionary Robert Sangster, pioneered and established the business of global stallions. The trio raided Keeneland Yearling Sales with impunity in the early 1970s. The results from those sale-ring sorties turned the Thoroughbred world on its head as they essentially brought Irish blood back from Kentucky to Ireland: early purchases included yearlings that turned out to be Epsom Derby winners The Minstrel and Golden Fleece, French Derby winner Caerleon and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged.

Within little more than two decades, Coolmore grew from a 160ha plot in Tipperary to an international operation of unparalleled success, with holdings in Ireland, Kentucky, and the Hunter Valley, and more than 50 stallions. Vincent O’Brien, Tom Magnier’s grandfather, was voted the greatest racing figure of the turf by the British racing public in 2003. He died, aged 92, in Ireland in 2009.

Tom’s love of riding was encouraged by his mother Susan, Vincent’s daughter. Such is her eye for horses, she purchased Moonfleet - a horse Tom described as a failed National Hunt horse - as a four-year-old at Tattersalls in 1995. Moonfleet famously went on to win the world’s most coveted eventing prize, with Australian Olympic gold medallist Andrew Hoy, winning Badminton in May 2006.

Tom and his four siblings rode at every possible opportunity and he evented successfully for Ireland. “Every spare moment we had, we were out schooling our horses. My mother is very keen on eventing,” he said. Tom never considered a career that did not involve horses. “We talked horses at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I would not have been any good at anything else,” he said. It is said Vincent O’Brien could “look into the soul of a horse” and Tom seems to have the same quiet, gentle approach, to horses and to people. “A lot of the guys here at Coolmore will tell you that when they were showing horses at the farm for Vincent years ago, Vincent would carry around one of those wooden chairs with a silver handle, and he would sit on it and observe the horse for ages,” Tom said. “If he came back for a third look at the horses he liked, he might look at the horse outside the stable for 20 minutes and then go inside the stable for 20 minutes and just be on his own with the horse and really see what this horse was.”

One such horse was the elegant bay Royal Academy - grandsire of Black Caviar - who died at Jerrys Plains in February this year. “His influence on racing here is enormous and will live on - he is probably one of the best examples of how shuttling stallions has worked.” Tom said Royal Academy’s Breeder’s Cup win in 1990 was his all-time favourite race. Royal Academy was a $US3.5 million yearling destined to join a roster of 36 sires at that time. Then eight-years-old, Tom vividly remembers watching the race with family on television at home in Ireland, knowing the entire country was cheering the horse home.

Vincent O’Brien had staked his reputation on the colt, and Royal Academy duly gave Ireland its first Breeders’ Cup victory. Glamorous Royal Academy captured everybody’s imagination winning the Irish 2000 Guineas and July Cup before being set for the Breeders’ Cup. “It was an incredible time,” recalled Tom. “My grandfather persuaded (champion jockey) Lester (Piggott) to come out of retirement to ride the horse. Vincent sent Lester to The Curragh and said ‘see how you get on today’ and The Curragh got a record crowd. Vincent offered him four rides and he rode four winners, and I think that proved to Vincent he could do it, so off they went to the Breeders’ Cup.”

“From a young age, it is the one race that sticks out my head. If anybody ever asks me, ‘what is a great race?’ that’s the first video I would put on to show them - I think Lester gave him the most unbelievable ride, while Royal Academy showed what a great racehorse he was and he beat a hell of a field. The atmosphere at that time was unbelievable - there was a lot of excitement, the stallions (Lomond, Caerleon, Sadler’s Wells, Last Tycoon, Storm Bird, El Gran Senor among them) were getting a lot of very good mares and the horses they were throwing were very good looking, and then they went on and did the job on the racetrack,” he recalled.

The tide is turning, and this spring Coolmore has a relatively fresh, young roster - Danehill stallion Fastnet Rock’s success is such that his fee is $275,000, although his fourth crop are only two-year-olds. Coolmore is synonymous with global supersire Danehill, who died prematurely in 2003, and seven of 15 sires on the roster are either by Danehill or have Danehill as their grand-sire. Tom thinks other racing jurisdictions would do well to take notice of Australia’s vibrant racing scene, apart from comparatively lucrative purses and bonuses, he notes the emphasis is hip, young, and innovative.

“Australian racing really caters for young people; it’s modern, it’s a fun place to be,” he said. Asked what he thinks are the most important sire-making races on both sides of the equator, Tom pointed to the fact Classic winners were prized in Europe while Australia was obsessed with two-year-old speed. He believes the Lightning Stakes (1000m) at Flemington is a benchmark race; Black Caviar has snared the last two editions of the Group One feature, but it has been a launching pad for stallion success with Lightning winners including Choisir and Fastnet Rock now domiciled in Coolmore’s stallion barn.

As well as being the biggest consignor of yearlings in the Southern Hemisphere, Coolmore is a major purchaser of yearlings - often horses the team thinks could be stallion prospects - as well as mares. Tom has the responsibility of managing an expansive portfolio of expensive bloodstock, and a notebook on his desk contains detailed information on the progress of Coolmore-owned racehorses. It is a rather impressive office. “Yes,” he agreed, slightly embarrassed. “In fact, it is Dad’s, and if he comes down then I will have to move out of it.”

Editor’s Note: Tom Magnier is a keynote speaker at this year’s Winter Workshop in our School Of Excellence on Monday, 8th and Tuesday 9th July. He is part of an array of stellar personalities in the line-up, and will speak on the Coolmore Story, “one of racing’s most memorable tales. For more details click here or contact Heather Morkel on 033 263 1081.

School Of Management Excellence, South Africa
School Of Management Excellence, South Africa

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