Talking Horses: Phoenix quits Britain with funding questions unanswered

Chris Cook
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock

Phoenix Thoroughbreds is to withdraw from British racing just one year after enjoying top-class success at Royal Ascot, in an apparent huff at what its founder sees as media persecution over allegations of money-laundering. The operation, whose Advertise is now a stallion at the National Stud after winning the Commonwealth Cup last summer, said it will “halt racing operations across the UK until further notice”.

It comes nine months after Amer Abdulaziz, the man behind Phoenix, was accused in a New York court of involvement in the OneCoin cryptocurrency scam. According to testimony live-tweeted by the investigative journalism website Inner City Press, Abdulaziz was called “one of the main money launderers” by a prosecution witness who himself pleaded guilty to charges in the case.

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The witness alleged Abdulaziz had stolen €100m from OneCoin and implied he was using it to buy racehorses. Phoenix responded with a statement categorically denying all allegations and insisting it would co-operate with relevant authorities if asked.

There has been no known official action against Phoenix or Abdulaziz. On Monday, the British Horseracing Authority appeared to want to distance itself from the controversy, saying: “Allegations of criminality are properly investigated by law enforcement organisations, which the BHA would always support where it can”.

That, however, appears at odds with what racing professionals expect from the BHA. When the story broke in November, Martyn Meade, trainer of Advertise, told The Guardian: “The confidence that we get, as trainers, is that anyone who is a registered owner has clearly been through the rigours of the BHA. They are, if you like, authorising us to train for certain people because they’re registered owners. That due diligence is very much up to them.”

While the BHA appears not to be taking action, the Racing Post has persisted and on Tuesday gave up three of its first five pages to the subject of Phoenix, listing 10 questions it said the organisation had refused to answer. In particular, it challenged Phoenix to offer detail about the source of its funding.

In quitting Britain, Phoenix appeared to lash out at the Post, saying: “The company has conducted itself appropriately, despite certain media outlets claiming otherwise. It is in no small part down to the unfair treatment from an industry media outlet that this decision has been taken.”

Phoenix’s most recent runner in Britain was a beaten 25-1 shot at Lingfield last week. It has raced 19 horses so far this year, based with the trainers John Quinn, Karl Burke, Ed Vaughan and Peter Chapple-Hyam, who sent out Deja to win the Old Newton Cup in their colours last month. It will presumably continue to have runners in Ireland, where Joseph O’Brien is among the trainers it employs.

Meetings at Newmarket and Ayr next month have been submitted to the government for possible use as trial days for the return of spectators, The Guardian understands.

The Ayr Gold Cup meeting and the Cambridgeshire meeting, which both run for three days in the second half of September, have been put forward alongside St Leger week at Doncaster as racing seeks to organise a trial in place of the one that was cancelled at Goodwood recently. Had the Goodwood trial taken place, a second one was envisaged for the Ebor meeting at York next week but those plans have since been abandoned. Whether any trials take place depends on the government's sports department, Boris Johnson having delayed initial trials over fears of a rise in the number of Britain's coronavirus cases. 

The Racecourse Association declined to confirm which race meetings were being considered for trials but its customer experience manager, Paul Swain, said: "We're still working towards 1 October as the return of crowds and have heard nothing to suggest it won't happen. We are engaging with DCMS, as we have done throughout the process, and been asked to put forward a series of potential pilots, which we have done."

Tuesday’s best bets

The market has certainly not missed the chance of the nap, Leoncavallo, who opened at 6s for the staying handicap at the end of Haydock’s card but is now no bigger than 7-4 . That’s too short for me but well done if you got on earlier.

I Am The Secret (1.55) has attracted some interest but is still a 9-1 shot. That’s not bad about the handicap debutant who has two brothers that won Grade Ones in South Africa at this distance.

He didn’t like a seventh furlong on turf on his second start but there was plenty of promise in his Lingfield debut, Adam Kirby returns to the saddle and I’ll take a chance on the grey’s rating proving lenient.

First Greyed (3.55) faces very different ground from when he won a novice at Hamilton but he had shown promise on a much sounder surface the time before. He has been crying out for this seventh furlong and appeals at 11-2 on his nursery debut.

Tips by Chris Cook

Haydock 

1.25 Will Sommers 1.55 I Am The Secret 2.25 Buniann 2.55 Legend Of Dubai 3.25 Velocity 3.55 First Greyed 4.25 Tacitly 4.55 Evening Spirit 5.30 Leoncavallo (nap) 

Wolverhampton 

1.40 Electric Blue 2.10 Boogie Time 2.40 Voodoo Whodoo 3.10 Sharrabang 3.40 Thumur (nb) 4.10 Canasta 4.40 Come On Bear 5.15 Global Acclamation 5.50 Giant Steps 

Lingfield 

3.50 Sarsaparilla 4.20 Praised 4.50 Ginger Box 5.25 Total Distraction 5.55 Volcano Bay 6.25 Tawtheef 6.55 Royal Dynasty 7.25 Radetsky 7.55 Letmestopyouthere 

Perth 

4.00 Zabeel Star 4.30 Petrastar 5.05 A Ladies Milan 5.40 Chocolat Noir 6.10 Raecius Felix 6.40 Great Colaci 7.10 Forecast 7.40 Fresh New Dawn 8.10 Headscarf Lil 

The three-year-olds seem likely to come to the fore in Lingfield’s staying handicap but it’s easy to have doubts about Sir Mark Prescott’s Anno Lucis, who needs the blinkers to wake him up. Ginger Box (4.50) at 7-1 might be more like it after a running-on career best in second at Chepstow.