June 15 2013
The world’s richest racehorse owners will go head to head as usual when Royal Ascot gets under way on Tuesday June 18. Prize money of £5m will be on the line over the five days, with the potential to earn many millions more when the victors go to stud. But flat racing at the highest level isn’t just about the horses. There also seems to be an ongoing, if unstated, competition between the biggest players to try and outdo one another in terms of lifestyle and prestige.
Michael Tabor, the former bookmaker and professional gambler and a leading member of the Coolmore Stud syndicate, is the owner of a 175ft yacht, Hurricane Run, which is named after the 2005 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner who ran in Tabor’s colours. He previously owned two other yachts, High Chaparral, a tribute to Coolmore’s 2002 Epsom Derby victor, and Thunder Gulch, who was Tabor’s breakthrough classic winner of the 1996 Kentucky Derby.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and probably the biggest spending racehorse owner of them all, has never won a Kentucky Derby but when it comes to boating he outscores Coolmore by a wide margin. His 524ft yacht, Dubai, was supposedly the world’s largest until Roman Abramovich’s craft, Eclipse, took to the water at 533ft. The proud owners of these leviathans have access to every imaginable device to keep track of their racehorses and football teams while at sea. But there is nothing new about sporting tycoons sailing the oceans in the very latest, best-equipped models.
One of the most charismatic racehorse owners of the 1920s and 1930s was the American AK Macomber, who also enjoyed a reputation as an adventurer and African explorer. He kept a stable in England and a stud in France, and his horse, Parth, won the 1923 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Macomber married the oil heiress Myrtle Harkness and built a fortune in banking and real estate. But throughout the interwar years he maintained his fascination with racing and big-game hunting, commissioning a yacht to let him to indulge both passions.
The Crusader, which was built by the distinguished Gosport-based firm Camper & Nicholsons, was a 223ft motor yacht with a 30-strong British crew. Some of Macomber’s priceless French oil paintings graced the walls of the dining saloon. The yacht also had room for what was described as a “Jacobean double bed” (for the owner, naturally), along with his fishing tackle and 14 rifles and game guns. But the most intriguing installation was a 1kW Marconi Valve Continuous Wave Transmitter, which enabled Crusader to pick up wireless programmes over long distances including news and sports reports. When Macomber’s party went big-game hunting in east Africa in 1928, the men carried portable receivers allowing them to hear music, telephone conversations and racing commentaries sent by the yacht’s wireless transmitter.
Macomber died in Paris in 1955, six years after Crusader was lost at sea off the Irish coast. Sheikh Mohammed’s yacht is still very much afloat, as is his racing empire despite the recent anabolic steroid scandal. And the Sheikh’s colt Cavalryman, who was not involved in the controversy, may well sail to victory in the Ascot Gold Cup at 12-1 with Coral.