"It would have been a fantastic deal for me," George Onett said wistfully. The deal, in fact, was something out of a horsetrader's wildest dreams.
Onett had been approached by a group of foreign businessmen who wanted him to be their agent in purchasing many high-priced, well-bred thoroughbreds. They might have spent millions of dollars on their venture into the racing game.
That was the good news.
The bad news was that they were planning on racing the horses in Iran.
Onett is a Miami attorney, and one of his clients is Her Imperial Highness Princess Shams Pahlavi, sister of the shah of Iran. He represents her in her dealings in the Southeastern United States. Onett also owns Stonegate Farm in Ocala, Fla., where he breeds and raises thoroughbreds.
Onett's two interests began to intertwine when the Iranian government decided to build a $29 million racing plant on the outskirts of Tehran. The enterprise was a natural.
"The Persians have a tremendous affinity for horses," Onett said. "They worship them with an almost religious-type feeling.The racing plant opened last September, with a capacity to seat 30,000. There wasn't much other entertainment in Tehran and they drew good crowds.
"The first horses there had been imported from Australia and New Zealand, and they had pretty good quality racing. For the Iranians, the emphasis was not so much on the gambling but on the sport."
That was only the beginning. "The Iranians wanted to make their country a major racing center," Onett said, "and they were very interested in getting good quality bloodstock. Interested businessmen put up money to start the Iranian Bloodstock Agency and I was going to be their North American correspondent."
Onett was thinking big.
"We had moved into the planning stage," he said. "And my idea was to buy some well-bred stallion prospects at the Keeneland and Saratoga sales, and maybe the Newmarket sales in England. I would take the horses, break them at Stonegate Farm and ship them to Iran in the early spring of their 2-year-old season."
Before the enterprise had advanced beyond the planning stage, of course, the businessmen with whom Onett was dealing had more pressing things to think about.
Now the Iranian Bloodstock Agency is presumably dead, along with Onett's dreams. And the future of racing in the country, like the future of many things, is uncertain. Ayatollah Khomeini has not yet made clear his position on pari-mutuel wagering.