THE deadline was set for 1pm and the clock was ticking. One-time billionaire Nathan Tinkler had to find money fast.
The liquidator assigned to wind up his company, Patinack Farm Administration, was on Thursday threatening to sack more than 250 staff who work in his racing and breeding empire.
Sources suggested Mr Tinkler would have to stump up $500,000 or see his employees locked out.
Rumours began flying that there would be more redundancies among the staff working at Mr Tinkler's Hunter Sports Group, the company that controls the Newcastle Knights NRL team and the same city's Jets football side.
But as the minutes to deadline ticked down, somehow Mr Tinkler - who made his fortune on the back of being able to pull off the most unlikely of deals in the coal industry - was able to provide enough money or assurances to prevent the sackings.
A short statement from Anthony Matthews and Associates said: "Employees will not have their employment terminated today."
But any relief for Mr Tinkler - and those working for him - may be short-lived.
It is still unclear what action the Adelaide-based accountants lawyers will take in coming days as they trawl through the company's records. And they are not the only insolvency specialists chasing Tinkler's assets.
His main private company, Tinkler Group Holdings, remains the subject of wind-up proceedings over a $145,000 debt to a Newcastle-based technology firm, while another of his private company, Mulsanne Resources, went into liquidation on Tuesday after failing to pay $28 million to the coal exploration firm Blackwood Resources.
Hunter Sports Group is in breach of a ''binding agreement'' with the state government by failing to pay almost $600,000 for the use of Newcastle's Hunter Stadium by Wednesday.
Venues NSW, which manages the stadium, has vowed to take whatever action necessary to recoup its money.
And there are a number of other companies chasing money from Mr Tinkler and his companies. A sign on the door of Patinack's Sydney office this week declared: ''The landlord has taken possession of this property due to the non-payment of rent.''
There is deep concern within the racing industry that Mr Tinkler, who is the country's biggest racehorse owner, may implode financially.
So worried are officials in NSW that stewards yesterday went to his stables in Randwick to check horses were being fed properly. The check-up was deemed necessary after Mr Tinkler's own private trainer recently admitted the company had been unable to pay for feed.
"Our biggest concern is the welfare of the horses and employees of Patinack Farm and we are obviously monitoring the situation closely," said the chief executive of Racing NSW, Peter V'landys.
Officials have considered preventing Mr Tinkler's horses from competing, but decided that as this would prevent the horses winning prize money - a source of funds vital to paying his debts - any ban would ultimately prove counterproductive.
And Mr Tinkler's finances are unlikely to improve markedly soon. His main asset - a 19.4 per cent stake in Whitehaven Coal - has plummeted in value from $1.1 billion in April to about $550 million.
with Donna Page and Robert Dillon
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