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Vale Nelson Bunker Hunt

American Nelson Bunker Hunt, who died in Dallas earlier this week, was by any measurement a big, big man.

The rotund Texan, along with brother W. Herbert Hunt, inherited multi-billions from their father, the legendary Texas oilman H. L. Hunt. Bunker added to the fortune and at one time was considered the richest man in the world.

With a seemingly bottomless pit to his wealth, he became the world's most influential racehorse owner, winning America's prestige Eclipse Award four times and racing what almost took on the look of a production line of champions.

But 10 years after he first entered racing and after what had already happened in his life, he had passed this writer by. That is until a fateful meeting at John Malcolm's Kinross Stud, Te Kauwhata - now operating under the banner of Hallmark Stud for Denny and Mark Baker.

It was mid-morning, mid-1960s. Already in attendance was bloodstock agent Jim Shannon, who introduced me to an overweight American.

I noted the Texas drawl and asked him what line of business he was in. "Oil," said the American, without further explanation.

"What sort of oil?", I asked as I pressed on. With a longer drawl and a hint of impatience he said: "Ex-plorr-ration, maaarket-ing."

"Smart-arse," I say to myself, and switch my attention to Kinross's amiable proprietor.

By mid-afternoon I was in Matamata and listening to Jack Lindsay, proprietor of Balcarres Stud telling me how he and his wife Hilda had entertained to lunch the richest man in the world - Nelson Bunker Hunt.

The Auckland Star had missed out on a scoop, the very bread and butter of newspapers of that era. However, Nelson Bunker Hunt and New Zealand didn't miss out that day.

The Texan bought a dairy farm down the road from Balcarres Stud which he converted into Waikato Stud. These days, under the ownership of the Chittick family, it has expanded to dominate the thoroughbred breeding industry.

On his second - and only other - visit to New Zealand, I did get a meaningful one-on-one interview with Hunt, who I discovered to be as affable as John Malcom. But by then the horse had bolted.

A failed bid to corner the world's silver market forced the Hunt brothers into bankruptcy in the early 1980s. On reaching a financial settlement Nelson re-entered the thoroughbred business in the late 1990s and in 2008 the 580 horses he dispersed fetched US$46,716,000.

His lasting legacy, however, are the sire Vaguely Noble and the champions Dahlia, Empery, Youth, Exceller, Trillion, Glorious Song, Dahar and Escapade.

Through Pretendre he also pioneered the shuttling of northern hemisphere stallions to New Zealand.


- David Bradford