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Gates company buys Craig equestrian facility

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A company owned by Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) founder Bill Gates has paid $18 million for a Rancho Santa Fe equestrian facility that diet and fitness maven Jenny Craig owned for about two decades.

The documents on last month's sale listed the buying agent as Robert Buote on behalf of the Rancho Paseana Trust in care of Gates' Watermark Estate Management Services organization in Kirkland, Wash.

Gates acquired the Rancho Paseana property for his daughter Jennifer who is a competitive show jumper. The property is expected to be used again for dessage and competitive jumping events and training.

Craig, probably best known for her weight-watch commercials, had tried to sell the equestrian center for a number of years without being able to put together a deal. Initially priced at about $29 million in 2010, the price was dropped to $25 million.

When Craig's husband Sid died in 2008, "Jenny didn't know how to sell a horse farm," said Catherine Barry -- who along with her husband Jason of Barry Estates -- handled the transaction.

Barry said the problem wasn't that people weren't interested in the property, it was that they wanted Craig to carry back a significant amount of paper to help finance the sale.

In the end, Craig was willing to settle for the lesser $18 million figure because Gates' firm was willing to pay all cash for the property.

"We had many offers, but people wanted a note, or they wanted more time. What we got was a quick all-cash deal," Barry said.

Not everyone wanted to keep the equestrian use. Barry said some wanted to subdivide the land for housing, while others thought a hotel would be a suitable use for the property.

The property, which is just outside the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant, was originally developed by the late Chargers owner Gene Klein under the Rancho del Rayo banner. Jenny and Sid Craig had purchased the property in the mid-1990s.

Craig closed the facility in 2013 after failing to find a buyer. While Craig didn't make the equestrian facility's resurrection as a condition of sale, Barry said Craig is glad the new buyer -- Barry is barred from saying it is Gates -- plans to not only keep the facility largely intact, but add improvements.

Prior to the closure, Rancho Paseana was reportedly the largest thoroughbred horse farm in the county.

The amenities include a ¾-mile track, four barns with 30 stalls each, a fifth barn for injured horses, an olive orchard a veterinary office and elegantly-appointed administrative offices.

"The pastures are 30 acres deep," Barry said.

Barry said while the equestrian facility is idle now, it wouldn't take long to get the venue in shape.

The sale was the largest Barry could remember in the greater Rancho Santa Fe community this year.

Sports betting icon Billy Walters sold his Rancho Santa Fe home for about $13 million last month.

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