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Sheikh adds another asset to his portfolio

THIS time a year ago, it seemed like a spectacular stallion acquisition per week. Now it is major property purchases, with onlya slightly longer time span between them.

With the acquisition of Stonerside Stable, the powerful owner-breeder operation, from the McNairs of Texas, as revealed on Tuesday in later editions of the Racing Post and on, Sheikh Mohammed adds a third major holding in as many countries in the span of six months.

In March, Darley, the sheikh's blood-stock arm, initiated the purchase of Woodlands Stud in Australia from Bob Ingham. The transaction included more than 11,000 acres and 1,000 horses, as well as a major training centre in Sydney.

Less than two weeks ago it became known that Darley was purchasing the historic Rothschild yard in Chantilly from Andre Fabre, with the intention of boosting its French stable above 100 horses next year.

And on Monday, Stonerside. The deal includes a 2,000-acre farm in Kentucky, a training centre in South Carolina, and 250 horses, among them this year's Ribblesdale Stakes winner Michita and Celebration Mile winner Raven's Pass, already 50 per cent owned by the sheikh after an agreement reached last autumn.

What is he up to? A good deal, it would seem, when you add this season's three major property acquisitions to the purchase of seven high-profile stallion prospects last year. However, the sheikh's intimates insist, as they did last summer, there is no change in policy.

Inthat case, we may have missed noticing an existing policy. The property and stallion acquisitions are not entirely new, and neither is the theme of global expansion.

Darley began selling horses at Japanese sales in 2002, and began seeking a Japan Racing Association licence at least five years ago, with the aim of vastly expanding its training and stallion base there. In the US, it retired Bernardini at the end of his champion three-year-old season in 2006, so the colt could enter stud with the highestprofile possible and a $100,000 fee.                  
"Hugely important" is the term John Ferguson, bloodstock adviser to the sheikh, has used regularly to describe what Japan, the US and Australia mean to Darley. But why?

In answer, the sheikh's advisers will say that he thoroughly enjoys racing in each of these countries. This is no doubt true, but he last went racing in Australia ten years ago, and was not at Saratoga to watch his Desert Party, a $2.1 million breeze-up buy, contest the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes on Monday. And no wonder; he is a busy man.

‘Enjoyment' may mean something different to him than it does to the average racegoer, and expansion comes naturally to the ruler of Dubai, as anyone who has visited the wealthy emirate will attest.

So in one senseit is no surprise that a man with thesheikh's financial means and global aims would enjoy racing through means of international expansion, especially when all his reach to far-flung regions raises the profile of Dubai. More to the point for those regionsinvested in may be what effect his actions will have on the racing and breeding industries.

Those selling yearlings and broodmares this year may wonder how much appetite he will have for buying new horses, having added 1,250 through the Stonerside and Woodlands purchases alone. And followers of his racing stable may wonder if and when, with the equine riches he has gained, Godolphin will rise again. You can bet that is part of the aim.

However, there is more to the expansion policy, whenever it began, than even success for Godolphin. Sheikh Mohammed has long been aware of the racing industry's weaknesses in its various jurisdictions - remember his Gimcrack speech of a decade ago? - and as long as he is involved in it, he will not leave it to rot.

Just consider how many races and events Darley sponsors, and how the Dubai racing carnival has opened up a whole new outlet for horses from all over the world during the winter.

The same goes for the breeding industry, and the intention is not entirely altruistic; with 81 stallions standing in six different countries, Darley needs a thriving bloodstock market from top to bottom. The purchase in April of Fasig-Tipton, North America's oldest thoroughbred auction house, by a Dubai-based associate of the sheikh, suggests that he is looking for more creative ways to support racing and breeding.

After all, oneman can only buy so much.


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