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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
Magnier - The secretive tycoon

By Cornelius Lysaght
BBC Five Live racing correspondent

There has been much debate in Radio Five Live's sportsroom about John Magnier's surname. More especially about its pronunciation.

Puzzled football journalists have asked me whether the man entangled in a row with Sir Alex Ferguson is John Man-ee-ay (like a French verb), or Mag-knee-er, or Magna (as in Carta).

The favoured version of the BBC Pronunciation Unit, incidentally, is Magna.

Born: 1948
Owns: Coolmore Stud,
Co Tipperary
Racing colours:
Dark blue silks
Estimated worth: +200m
That so many members of every sort of media know quite so little about his name, let alone his life and business affairs, will not in any way dismay the intensely private, even secretive, Magnier.

Quite the opposite in fact.

During three decades that the 56-year-old multi-millionaire businessman has ruthlessly built up the Coolmore racing empire, he has swerved around publicity like a steeplechaser side-stepping an adjacent faller.

Hence the huddle of friends and advisers behind the growth of the business from a stud farm in Tipperary to the biggest force in international racing have been nicknamed the Coolmore Mafia.

Once the boss explained: "I don't like talking to the press, it only sounds like bragging."

A subsequent link-up with Vincent O'Brien, part owner of Coolmore stud and the greatest Flat racing trainer of his generation, took Magnier to a whole new plain.

With O'Brien, to whose daughter Sue he is married, and alongside associates like top owner Robert Sangster, he made daring raids into the US bloodstock market.

They wanted to bring back home thoroughbreds with gilt-edged pedigrees that would first race, and then act as stallions, attracting the very best mares to Ireland.

No-one can dispute, however, that Magnier has much to brag about, having left school at 15, following the death of his father, to help run the family's own stud farm.

And in a golden age, a combination of Magnier's brilliant analysis of bloodlines, and the exquisite training skills of O'Brien, became the stuff of legend.

The winners rolled, and taking full advantage of an Irish law that exempts bloodstock profits from tax, a fortune estimated today at 500m, was accrued.

A significant percentage of that has been ploughed into Manchester United as Magnier expands his business interests, though he has never been to Old Trafford, and has only once even seen the team play.

With an ever-bulging bank balance, Magnier, a former Senator in the Irish parliament, plays as hard as he undoubtedly works, living the high life with homes around the world, private jets and lavish parties.

Indeed, while a dispute with Sir Alex Ferguson rumbled on, he and business partner JP McManus have been enjoying the sun in Barbados.

Initially, when the racing-mad football manager became a close friend, it looked to all the world like a match made in heaven.

Sir Alex Ferguson (left) with Rock of Gibraltar and jockey Mick Kinane
Better times for Ferguson with Rock of Gibraltar and rider Mick Kinane
Letting Rock Of Gibraltar run in Fergie's colours seemed a normal enough thing to do as a gesture of friendship for such a rich and powerful man.

That nothing much was put down on paper about it might seem odd to you and me.

But friends say that is the way Magnier has always done business. With a handshake, over a drink.

To start with, things could hardly have gone better. We all know that Ferguson clearly enjoyed the seven successive Group One victories, netting prize money of 1.1m

And for the Irish racing tycoon, having the smiling visage of one of the most famous men in global sport on the front of all of Coolmore's brochures was hardly bad for business.

And to think all of that was only the year before last.

The two ended up in a bitter fight over the stallion's potentially mind-boggling earnings, after Ferguson claimed he was entitled to half.

But faced with a costly courtoom battle, the United manager eventually agreed a deal to end the dispute.

When talking about John Magnier, those that know him speak of his charm, of his private nature, of his shrewdness and of his great wealth.

Most of all though, they speak of his reputation for being harder than nails.

He is renowned for getting what he wants, and for not allowing anyone or anything to get in his way. That is how he has built up Coolmore.

Therefore, against Ferguson, the clever money was always on Magnier winning the day, as he has so often before.



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