Racetrack bookmaker to £170m art collector

THEY say you never see a poor bookmaker – but you rarely see one with a fortune of £170m and an incredible art collection.

Meet Joe Donnelly and his elegant wife Marie, who could hit it hard again at the Cheltenham Festival with their superstar stable of top horses.

7

Irish racehorse owner Joe Donnelly smiles after Al Boom success in 2019Credit: Racingphotos.com
Donnelly and his wife Marie are major players in the world of art and culture

7

Donnelly and his wife Marie are major players in the world of art and cultureCredit: Getty

Familiar names like Champion Chase favorite Shishkin, two-time Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo and Ryanair Chance Melon are just a few.

But despite all their success on the runway, the couple made a fortune — or at least part of it — thanks to it.

Just over 15 years ago, the couple moved to France after making a fortune selling a building found on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, where Dodi Fayed and Princess Diana were staying before their fatal car crash.

Joe started his life as a bookmaker, before making millions and investing his money in art.

At one time he owned a gallery in Ireland, although it would have been impossible to visit – only the elite being allowed entry.

But it housed works by world-renowned artists, including Picasso and Matisse, who are now at home in Dublin.

DEALS OF THE DAY

William Hill: Bet £10 get £30 free sports betting CLAIM HERE

betting fair BET £10 ON THE 1:15 PM SANDOWN SAT GET £70 FREE BETS CLAIM HERE

betting fair Get a £20 free bet when you place £50 in bets. Repeat up to 5 times for £100 free bets CLAIM HERE

Paddy Power: bet £10 on races and get £60 free betsCLAIM HERE

Heaven bet £5 FREE BET EVERYDAY AT CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL + AN EXTRA £5 BET TODAY WHEN YOU PLACE A £5 BETCLAIM HERE

William Hill: 18 years and over. Play it safe. New customers using promo code H30 only, minimum stake £10/€10, minimum odds 1/2, free bets paid out in 2 x £15/€15, free bets credited after first qualifying bet is settled, free bets will expire 30 days after the qualifying bet is placed, payment method/player/country restrictions apply. begambleaware.org

Betfair – New customers place £50 bets to receive £20 free bets. Repeat up to 5 times to receive a maximum of £100. Minimum rating 1.2 (1/5). Multiple bets included. Exchange bets excluded. Payment restrictions apply. The T&Cs apply. 18+ BeGambleAware.Org

Betfair – New customer offer. Bet £/€10 on SBK in Race 1 at Sandown remaining races on the card + £/€10 free bet on Day 1 at Cheltenham (£/€70 total). Only deposits with cards apply (Apple Pay deposits excluded). The T&Cs apply. 18+ BeGambleAware.Org

Paddy Power: New customer offer. Place a £10 bet on any horse racing market between March 11-13, min. Odds 1/2 (1.5) – get £50 free bet on bet settlement + £10 extra on the first day of Cheltenham, Tuesday March 15 (£60 total). Your qualifying bet must be settled by 11:59 p.m. on March 13. Only deposits via cards will be eligible (Apple Pay deposit excluded). The T&Cs apply. Please gamble responsibly. 18+ BeGambleAware.Org

Sky Bet: NEW CUSTOMERS ONLY. SINGLE FIRST BET AND E/W ONLY. ODDS OF 1/1 OR MORE. 5 BET TOKENS of £5. FIRST BET £5 FREE CREDITED ON BET PLACEMENT. FREE BET SETS NOT INCLUDED IN RETURNS. FREE BETS ARE NOT WITHDRAWN. NO FREE BET EXPIRATION. ELIGIBILITY RESTRICTIONS AND OTHER TERMS AND CONDITIONS APPLY. 18+. BEGAMBLEAWARE.ORG

He is a man who values ​​his privacy.

The bookie

In the 1990s, Donnelly was an influential bookmaker.

He was president of the Irish National Bookmakers’ Association and twice a member of the board of the Irish Horseracing Authority, which preceded Horse Racing Ireland.

And he was very proud of his profession, imparting his knowledge to bettors with a recognized understated style that attracted admirers.

However, despite his calm demeanor, he knew when to stand up for himself.

A display of a more acerbic character came at Leopardstown in 1995, when on-course betting shops were introduced and their methods of operation questioned.

Donnelly succeeded in preventing stores from accepting single bets at the home meeting, after gaining support from INBA members for the strike.

But the seeds for a more artistic life were planted by his wife.

The art scene

A decade before Joe earned his reputation as a bookmaker, the family moved to Dublin.

There they became synonymous with the cultural and artistic world of the capital and supported local charities.

Marie Donnelly raised millions for charity

7

Marie Donnelly raised millions for charityCredit: Getty
Picasso's original paintings are in the Donnellys' art collection, although it is unclear which ones

7

Picasso’s original paintings are in the Donnellys’ art collection, although it is unclear which onesCredit: PA

Marie helped found the Irish Hospice Foundation in 1986, before joining its board three years later and becoming president in 1997.

She set up a fundraiser called The Whoseday Project and managed to raise over £2million.

Friends, including poet Seamus Heaney and artist Louis Le Brocquy, helped her in her quest.

Soon the Donnellys were kings in Dublin.

Their house, itself, is a work of art. Carved into the side of a hill in Killiney, an affluent suburb close to the city, it offers views of the sea.

He now has an art collection dominated by international artists, after an art gallery he owned closed.

Works by Matisse and Picasso are complemented by pieces by Willem de Kooning, Julian Schnabel and Georg Baselitz – with a figure on the value of the collection impossible to pin down.

Considered major players in the art world, Joe and Marie have both participated in the International Council of the Tate Gallery, as well as the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

However, they also like to invest in real estate.

Champs Elysees

In 2005, Joe bought a building on what is described as the most beautiful avenue in the world, the Champs-Elysées.

The Donnellys owned this building on the Champs-Elysées in Paris

7

The Donnellys owned this building on the Champs-Elysées in ParisCredit: Getty
Dodi Fayed's apartment where he was staying with Princess Diana was in the same building

7

Dodi Fayed’s apartment where he was staying with Princess Diana was in the same buildingCredit: Rex Features

Not only does it house a Cartier store visited by the rich and famous, but above it are apartments worth millions due to their lavish location.

In 1997, long before the Donnellys showed an interest, it was where Dodi Fayed and Princess Diana were staying before they lost their lives in a car crash.

Apparently, when the deal was made some eight years later, their assets were still at the residence.

“It was like a shrine with all her clothes, jewelry, etc. still in place,” a source told The Times.

“After the deal was done, his father took it all away. The Donnellys acquired it as an investment with the intention of selling all the apartments.”

A year later, Joe knocked the building down for an undisclosed sum.

From now on, it is in the race that he holds his major asset.

Ahead of Cheltenham, his horse Shishkin is the big favorite for the Champion Chase.

You wouldn’t let the Donnellys through to cheer on a winner… quietly, of course.

Shishkin is big favorite for Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival

7

Shishkin is big favorite for Champion Chase at the Cheltenham FestivalCredit: PA

Norma D. Ross