(Photo : The Independent)
“A billion dollars sure ain’t what it used to be.”
Nelson Bunker Hunt
Summerhill CEOIt was the silver magnate Nelson Bunker Hunt who coined the famous phrase “a billion dollars sure ain’t what it used to be,” when his empire came crashing down in 1988. Yet, twenty-five years on, it remains a lot of money in the horse game. This past week, rumours abounded in the vicinity of English racing’s headquarters, Newmarket, that the most successful private racing and breeding operation of the modern era, Prince Khalid Abdullah’s Judmonte Farm, was in the process of being sold. That there is something in the wind is certain, but exactly what is involved has yet to be disclosed. While price is usually the last thing people settle upon in situations like this, a source pretty close to the action advises us that there could be as much as a billion pounds on the table. I guess the real issue though, is whether the transaction involves the sale of Frankel, the best idea anyone ever came up with in the world of racing. He was valued at the time he went to stud at somewhere between £100 and £125 million, which provides some credence to the numbers being bandied about.
There are not a lot of people in the world capable of paying that kind of money for what, in the end, would amount to a trophy, but it is believed that it is the Al Thani family, rulers of Qatar, are behind it. A billion pounds is more than the sovereign wealth fund of most countries, but not for the Qataris: it’s a splash in the ocean for them, and it makes sense. The prince has made Juddmonte his life’s work, and a billion is a bagatelle when you think they’re picking up one of history’s most successful operations, as a going concern.
In the course of a chat with an Irish pal last week, I disclosed my understanding of the amount involved. He went silent, and rang off. A minute later, he was on the line again: “Did you say a billion pounds, or a billion euros?”. It might make a difference to the Irish, but at the Southernmost tip of the darkest continent, it’s an awful lot of dough, either way.