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Nathan Tinkler’s fire sale: Who got burnt?

Nathan Tinkler's tenure as owner of the Knights and the Jets made many fans turn sour on private ownership. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Expert
6th October, 2014
8
2068 Reads

Out, out, out they went, at crazy discount prices. Sounded like a TV commercial for Harvey Norman. Was it 50 months interest free, nought per cent interest, no deposit?

Did Sean Buckley come home with a bargain when his connections bid a successful $600,000 for Epsom Handicap unlucky third, Hooked? We will all soon be wise, after the event.

Over four days from 28 September to 1 October we watched the Patinack Farm, Sandy Hollow (NSW) Complete Dispersal Sale at the Magic Millions auction centre at the Gold Coast.

You know the story by now, and you know the characters in the play. Nathan Tinkler, 38 last birthday, is a ‘former mining magnate’ with a colourful past and present.

Not long ago Tinkler bought a lot of racehorses and stud farms. He had some wins and plenty of losses. He soon ended up owing a lot of money to Gerry Harvey, who plays the role of ‘billionaire retailer’.

Harvey owns the bloodstock auction company Magic Millions at the Gold Coast. He held Patinack Farm assets as security so the vendor at the four-day sale this week was officially ‘G. Harvey Nominees Pty Ltd ATF Harvey 2007 Option Trust, Sydney NSW’.

Who are the winners and the losers in this fire sale? Pushing 500 horses onto the market at one hit can be seen in different ways. Does it depress the market or does it create new interest?

History would suggest that a few buyers will come away from here with good-luck stories.

It’s worth looking at the figures. Patinack Farm listed 517 lots in the catalogue. Say that slowly. Five hundred and seventeen are a lot of horses.

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Plus 69. The sale included 69 broodmares with what thoroughbred breeders call ‘foals at foot’ – in this case, foals that have been born in the past couple of months. Buyers get two for one, or maybe even three, because many of these mares are pregnant again.

Almost everything went at the sale, without reserve prices: unraced foals, unnamed racehorses, tried gallopers, a few old-timers.

Then 31 lots were withdrawn from the sale, for a variety of reasons. The five working stallions in the catalogue were reserved at the last minute, reportedly to add value to the forthcoming auction sale of Patinack stud farms.

Monaco Consul won the 2009 Victoria Derby. Murtajill was once a beaten favourite in a Golden Slipper. Raheeb won a Cameron Handicap at Newcastle. Trusting had near misses in several Australian Group 1 races. Lope de Vega is the Patinack stallion with international credentials as a winner of the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) at Chantilly.

You can still buy them.

Only the accountants would be able to tell you exactly how much G. Harvey Nominees netted from the dispersal sale. Normally auction houses charge a nice percentage on horses bought and sold.

The official gross sale price for the four days was $33.94 million, but that includes 84 lots that were sold to ‘Magic Millions as Agent’.

Nathan Tinkler reportedly owed Gerry Harvey $40 million. So that sounds a bit like nought per cent, no deposit.

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It’s easy to be judgmental about Nathan Tinkler’s fall from grace as a ‘racing magnate’. When he began wading into the horse market less than a decade ago, you didn’t have to be a historian to predict that it would end in tears.

Tinkler’s techniques were never going to endear him to racing purists who know it is nearly impossible to buy your way to profit in this sport. Still, they were happy to be part of the story.

For example the spring sprint at Flemington – once called the VRC Emirates Classic, the Lexus Classic and the Age Classic – was from 2008 to 2012 sponsored as the Group 1 VRC Patinack Farm Classic.

Last year it suddenly became the VRC Sprint Classic. This year it will be Darley’s turn as sponsor.

Black Caviar twice won a VRC Patinack Classic. In this way at least the name will never completely disappear from Australian racing.

Was the Patinack Complete Dispersal the greatest racehorse sale in Australian history? Everything in the Tinkler world was supersized, so this one eclipsed most previous records, certainly in terms of numbers. But probaby not in quality.

Ninety years ago Reg Inglis sold 135 horses at the unreserved sale of Arrowfield Stud in the Hunter Valley for the Moses brothers. They sold the champion stallion Valais to the Thompsons of Widden Valley for an Australian record of 14,400 guineas.

How much that translates to today is a guess, but certainly millions. it was more than the total 1924 Melbourne Cup prize money.

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In 1951 William Inglis auctioneers sold more than 300 mares (111 of them with foals) from the estate of the late F.W. Hughes at the Wagga Municipal Saleyards. Hughes owned vast acreage in the Riverina.

Hughes, like the Moses brothers but unlike Nathan Tinkler, had experienced the highs of winning a Melbourne Cup as owner – in his case, with Hiraji (1947).

My favourite dispersal sale stories revolve around the Maribyrnong Stud Farm, upstream of Flemington Racecourse, in the 1860s. Hurtle Fisher and his brother Charles were big names in South Australian and then Victorian racing.

The Fishers spent a fortune importing superb English racehorses to the colonies. Fisherman had won 70 races in England including the Ascot Gold Cup twice. They also imported Marchioness, an English Oaks winner.

Hurtle and Charles had two attempts to sell up their racing interests by dispersal auctions but still found themselves with property on their hands. Their next solution was to sell the horses and property through a lottery. Ten thousand tickets at ten pounds a throw.

Twenty thousand pounds in 1867 was worth 16 Melbourne Cups. On today’s trading that would be $96 million.

Maybe Gerry and Nathan should have gone that way. Racing is a lottery, after all. They could have shared a ticket.

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