In an industry renowned for its ‘characters’, they don’t come much more colourful than Billy McDonald.
Billy passed away in Ireland last week at the age of 65, but it’s highly unlikely the charismatic bloodstock agent, raconteur and friend of the stars will be forgotten in a hurry.
The following is an excerpt from his obituary in Brisnet.com
Based originally in Ireland before relocating to California, Billy McDonald purchased – among others – eventual dual Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged, as well as Fairy Bridge (Bold Reason), later the dam of Sadler’s Wells.
McDonald was a close associate of Coolmore principal Robert Sangster, for whom he purchased Alleged as an unraced 2YO in training for $US120,000, and counted among his friends celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore.
McDonald, in addition to being a bloodstock agent, spent time as a Rolls Royce dealer in California, where he was a mainstay at the track and at various racing haunts.
“Billy was one of the great characters of the game,” trainer John Gosden recalls. “He is still in the Guinness Book of World Records for selling the most Rolls Royces in a day. He was a man who lived life to the full, and had a great eye for a horse. He was a talented pony rider in his youth, and a fast runner, both into – and out of – trouble.
“He was an immensely popular and loveable man who was totally at ease in all the great watering holes, restaurants and race courses of the world. There will never be another Billy.”
McDonald, who kept a low profile after suffering the effects of a stroke roughly 12 years ago, was a close friend of movie producer David Giler, who secured him a small role in the Richard Dreyfuss horse-racing film Let It Ride.
In addition to providing Sangster and the Coolmore connections an initial Arc victory with Alleged in 1978, McDonald would play a role in the stud’s legendary stallion Sadler’s Wells. According to the book Horsetrader, by Patrick and Nick Robinson, McDonald had joined Sangster, John Magnier and trainer Vincent O’Brien on a scouting mission to Claiborne Farm:
Robert and his men had gone there early to see the yearlings before they went to the sale, and McDonald had decided to short circuit the conventional way of perusing the young horses. Taking the yearling manager aside, he pressed a $100 bill into his hand and said, “Which one do YOU like best?”
“Oh, I’d go for the little Bold Reason filly every time,” he replied. “They always race over to this gate from right across the far side of the paddock, and that little filly is always yards in front when they arrive. SHE is a racehorse.”
Indeed, the filly, Fairy Bridge, turned out to be a fine runner, winning both starts at two before being named champion 2YO filly in Ireland, but her real value would be as a broodmare. Her second foal was Sadler’s Wells, who carried Sangster’s colors to victory in a trio of Group 1 races, then commenced an unrivalled career as Europe’s premier sire.
Following are a collection of quotes and anecdotes honoring McDonald:
Elaine ‘Legs’ Lawlor, Goffs Director of Bloodstock Sales
“There was a restaurant in L.A. called Le Dome, where all the racing people would go to regularly back in the 80s. Billy was friends with Frank Sinatra, and one time Billy had a date at the restaurant, and he asked Frank, who was also dining there, if he wouldn’t mind dropping by on his way out and say hello. You know, to impress the girl. Which Frank duly did, and when he stopped by the table, Billy said, ‘Frank, not now, can’t you see I’m busy?’ That story just sums Billy up.
“He could talk the talk, and there was no better salesman. He could sell ice to an Eskimo.”
Coolmore associate Richard Henry
“I had dinner with (actor) John Forsythe and Billy one day, and John told me that Billy knew more fellas in Hollywood than he did.”
Tullamaine Castle Stud’s Bob Lanigan, former general manager of Coolmore
“He used to describe himself as, ‘The Purveyor of Champions to Millionaires.’ He was a wonderful man. He introduced Pierce Brosnan and myself, and bought us a mare called Salidar (Ire), who we bred a good horse called Bin Ajwaad out of.
(Bin Ajwaad stood in New Zealand for a couple of seasons and his winners included STC Gloaming S-G2 winner Go Bint).
“Billy also used to have the best letterhead: A horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart, and wins with his character (Federico Tesio).”
Restauranteur Eddie Kerkhofs, who owned popular L.A. hangout Le Dome.
“One of my favorite stories about Billy is when he turned 40, and he decided to give himself a party at Le Dome. He rented out the whole place. He said, ‘I want pasta, I want caviar, I want Cristal Roederer. I’m inviting 130 people.’ So we made a deal. I told him that, since he was my friend, that I wasn’t going to charge him full price for the Cristal, because that would be very expensive, and that I would give it to him at cost. So 130 people came, and it was a lot of noise, and this and that. All of the sudden, I get a phone call from Palm Springs. It was the Chairman of the Board, Mr. Sinatra himself. He said, ‘Eddie, I know I was invited to Billy’s 40th birthday party, but I couldn’t make it. But, do me one favor: give me the cheque.’ And that’s what I did, and he picked up the cheque for Billy’s party. Of course, I didn’t tell Billy until the day after, because he would have done more damage!”