Retail tycoon Dunne linked with acquisition of Ballymacoll Stud
The famed nursery changed hands for €8.15 million at public auction
The sale of the historic Ballymacoll Stud property at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin on Tuesday brought to a close a chapter in the story of the famed nursery that began when Sir Michael Sobell and his son-in-law Sir Arnold Weinstock bought the farm and its 130 horses from the estate of the late Dorothy Paget for £250,000 some 57 years earlier.
We know that the property, comprising 294 acres of land and a handful of farm and residential buildings, changed hands for €8.15 million, but the identity of the buyer has yet to be confirmed.
"I have bought the property on behalf of a client but I cannot disclose anything about them or their nationality," was all that Peter Walsh, managing partner of Orpen Franks legal firm, was able to reveal having secured the picturesque tract situated in Dunboyne, County Meath, on behalf of his anonymous client.
One name has, however, come up time and time again as speculation over who has acquired Ballymacoll grows, and it is that of the 71-year-old reclusive owner, breeder and trainer Frank Dunne.
The retailer, who owns a third of the shares in Ireland's biggest homegrown retail chain Dunnes Stores and features at number 47 on the Irish Independent's Rich List in 2017, would certainly seem to fit the brief of a potential buyer of the iconic thoroughbred establishment, having already enjoyed a storied career in the twinned worlds of racing and breeding.
Dunne is perhaps best known for having trained globetrotting filly Stanerra, who became a first Europe-trained winner of the Japan Cup when recording a fairytale, and most unlikely, victory in the 1983 renewal of the Tokyo showpiece.
The daughter of the unheralded Guillaume Tell had tied-up badly after the long flight, but Dunne instructed his staff to keep her walking for six hours a day for days on end, and their efforts received the ultimate reward when Stanerra came from an unpromising position to beat Kyoei Promise by a head.
Earlier in the season she had also produced a brace of scintillating performances to land both the Prince of Wales's Stakes and Hardwicke Stakes during Royal Ascot. Dunne has not yet saddled a runner during the current Flat campaign, with his most recent winner coming when Highland Fling landed a Ballinrobe handicap in late-June 2016.
He has also enjoyed huge success as a breeder, most notably with the likes of dual Group 1 winner and three-time Arc runner-up Youmzain, 2,000 Guineas winner and now Kildangan Stud resident Night Of Thunder and the high-class hurdler My Tent Or Yours.
Perhaps the biggest clue that Dunne could be behind the purchase of the Ballymacoll property, however, is that it neighbors his own patch at Hamwood Stud.
Of course, Dunne is not the only stud owner whose land is within close proximity of the Ballymacoll acreage, with the likes of Kirsten Rausing's Irish base at Staffordstown Stud also in the vicinity.
Only time will tell who is responsible for the €8.15m bid that sealed the deal for Ballymacoll, but it is heartening to hear names like Dunne's linked so closely with the sale.
An institution with such a rich history deserves an appreciative custodian, and should Dunne be revealed as the new owner Ballymacoll Stud will have surely found itself with just that.