Phoenix Thoroughbreds is to cease operations in Britain with immediate effect, according to a statement released by the troubled racing organisation on Tuesday.
Founder Amer Abdulaziz Salman, who last year was alleged in a New York court to be a key money launderer for fake cryptocurrency OneCoin, which he categorically denies, said his ownership vehicle would focus on other racing jurisdictions.
Phoenix Thoroughbreds has been a major player in British racing since it first emerged on the scene in 2017, but the self-styled “world’s first regulated thoroughbred fund” has been under intense scrutiny since the sensational court testimony and revelations in the Racing Post that the group’s Luxembourg-registered equine fund was in voluntary liquidation after the fund manager approached to run it walked away during the due diligence process.
A statement on Tuesday said the organisation would "halt racing operations across the UK until further notice", but would continue to operate internationally.
In the statement, Abdulaziz was quoted as saying: "This has not been a decision we have taken lightly. However, for the growth and wellbeing of our business and our partners internationally, we have taken the decision to leave the UK for the foreseeable future. It saddens me greatly to have to do this but at this juncture, we believe it is necessary. We would like to thank everyone who has helped us achieve our dreams so far."
Phoenix Thoroughbreds burst on to the scene in March 2017 with the first of a series of big-money purchases at the sales, while the likes of Advertise and Signora Cabello have excelled on British racecourses in the group’s white colours with orange stars.
Abdulaziz, 56, laid out ambitions to conquer international racing after Signora Cabello’s Queen Mary victory in 2018, when he said: "Our ambition in horseracing is to be number one - and we will be. It's a big ambition but we always set targets and we go for it.”
However, despite the outlay from his equine investment fund, Abdulaziz has never identified any investors - citing client confidentiality - while no one has come forward independently to state their involvement in the fund.
A number of Abdulaziz’s key lieutenants have cut ties with the organisation since November, the most recent being Tom Ludt, the respected former vice-president and head of equine at Phoenix Fund Investments, Abdulaziz’s Dubai-based parent company of Phoenix Thoroughbreds, since the allegations against Abdulaziz became public.
Ludt, who took a termination agreement to leave his role in June, followed former bloodstock adviser Dermot Farrington and leading trainers Martyn Meade and Bob Baffert in walking away from Phoenix Thoroughbreds.
Speaking to the Racing Post, Ludt said: “The one call we had [with Abdulaziz after the OneCoin allegations emerged], and it was what Dermot Farrington said all along, clarify this and I’m fine, but if you don’t it’s too suspicious for my reputation, so he resigned.
“Each to their own, and I’m not here to judge, but [Abdulaziz has] never given anybody a name. I’ve read the same things that everyone else has about these big firms that are supposedly investors, but nobody has ever seemed to know.”
Phoenix Thoroughbreds, and its associated Phoenix Ladies Syndicate, has horses with 11 trainers in Britain, including with John Quinn, Karl Burke and Peter Chapple-Hyam, who last month saddled Bharani Star to run in the Investec Oaks at Epsom.
Internationally, Phoenix has been represented by runners in the UAE, Australia - where Group 1 winners Loving Gaby and Farnan have carried the group’s colours - and the USA, where Grade 1-winner Volatile is the organisation’s flagbearer.
Phoenix Thoroughbreds and Abdulaziz have declined to answer queries submitted to them directly by the Racing Post on numerous occasions since November, including ten questions that were published on Tuesday in a front-page story headlined 'The questions Phoenix Thoroughbreds will not answer'.
In an statement released last November - the only direct comment Phoenix or Abdulaziz have provided concerning the allegations made against it - the group said: "Phoenix Fund Investments LLC categorically denies all allegations made against it, and its owner, Mr Amer Abdulaziz, in legal proceedings against OneCoin and its conspirators in the US.
"Phoenix Fund Investments LLC believes that the firm and Mr Amer Abdulaziz have acted according to the law at all times, and will vigorously contest all allegations of wrongdoing."