Vichai dreamt of crowning glory in 'Sport of Kings'

LONDON • Thai duty-free billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was best known on the sporting front for the fairy tale success of Leicester City, which won the Premier League title in 2016, and had hoped his investment in horse racing would yield the same results.

Mr Vichai, who died after his helicopter crashed outside Leicester's stadium last Saturday, had only hours earlier celebrated the success of two of the around 60 horses he owned in training, despite getting involved in the sport only last year under the team name King Power Racing.

Mr Vichai invested around £30 million (S$53 million) in racing, vying to become a force in the "Sport of Kings".

One of the winning horses last Saturday bears a now grimly ironic name - Happy Power.

Happy Power's trainer Andrew Balding will feel the impact more than most. At the start of the season, he had 33 horses sent by Mr Vichai - almost a fifth of his stable. For a trainer like Mr Balding, Mr Vichai's investment was a potential game changer as he battled against the stables backed by billionaire Arab owners.

"Happily, we've had huge hope in the investment Vichai is making," Mr Balding told The Daily Telegraph last year. "The big operations like Juddmonte and Sheikh Hamdan (Al Maktoum) haven't had horses here, so it will be fantastic to get some really good individuals pedigree-wise, which will be a big bonus to the yard."

Mirroring his stewardship at Leicester City, against-the-odds winners of the English Premier League in 2016, Mr Vichai became a meticulous investor in horses.

DECISION MAKER

He was heavily involved in every purchase, at the end of a phone... We tried to point him in the right direction, but ultimately, he made the decisions.

MR ANDREW BALDING, trainer of Happy Power, a winning horse last Saturday, who says Mr Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was a meticulous investor in horses.

"He was heavily involved in every purchase, at the end of a phone," Mr Balding said. "We tried to point him in the right direction, but ultimately, he made the decisions."

Even in racing, Mr Vichai could never leave his beloved Leicester City - known as the Foxes - far from his thoughts. The names of his horses reflected this - one is named Fox Vardy, after England striker Jamie Vardy, whose goals propelled the club to the league title. Another is called Fox Kasper - in honour of the team's goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Through his bloodstock agent Alastair Donald, he spent over £2 million last year on horses due to run at the Royal Ascot festival and did the same again this year.

Despite some successes, his investments have yet to yield the desired results, particularly at Ascot.

Even his most expensive purchase, King Power, which cost £2.5 million as a yearling last year, failed to sparkle on her debut last Saturday, finishing out of the places.

However, King Power, Happy Power and maybe Fox Vardy could go on next year to become champions. The footballer Vardy after all took years to fulfil his potential.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2018, with the headline 'Vichai dreamt of crowning glory in 'Sport of Kings''. Print Edition | Subscribe