Dubai steps up global shopping spreeby grabbing Australian racing empire

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The biggest player in the Australian racing industry has sold his entire thoroughbred operation to the ruler of Dubai for a reported $500m (£250m), making it among the largest sales of its kind in the world.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai's Crown Prince, has added 1,000 horses, including some of Australia's leading champions, to his already vast collection. The Sheikh is considered the world's biggest thoroughbred owner, with his Godolphin stable dominating racing in the northern hemisphere.

The sale, which stunned the Australian racing industry, is the latest in a series of major overseas acquisitions by the oil-rich Gulf state. The Dubai government's private equity investment arm, Dubai International Capital, is poised to buy Liverpool Football Club for £400m.

The man who has sold two studs, two training farms, and stables in Sydney and Melbourne to Sheikh Mohammed is Bob Ingham, a reclusive multimillionaire who, with his late brother, Jack, made a fortune out of chickens. After transforming a Sydney chicken farm into Australia's largest poultry business, the brothers used some of the profits to build a thoroughbred empire.

Mr Ingham had not been planning to sell. "But they made us an offer impossible to turn down, an offer we couldn't refuse," his son, John, told The Australian newspaper yesterday.

The deal will have to be approved by Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board, which is expected to happen in the next few weeks.

Sheikh Mohammed, the head of Dubai's ruling family, has been a major player in the international horse racing world for 30 years. He has set up breeding operations in Britain, Ireland, the US and Australia, where he had a significant presence – through his Darlery Australia stud – before this sale.

The Sheikh, ranked as the world's fifth richest man, with an estimated personal fortune of £14bn, said in a statement: "I have long admired the love Australians have for the horse and for racing. The Ingham family have made a significant contribution to Australian racing and to the thoroughbred industry, and I am looking forward to building on their success."

The Ingham brothers made £500m after taking over a small chicken farm in the 1950s and turning it into a business employing 7,000 people. In the early 1960s they moved into racing and, by 1967, had bred Sweet Embrace, which won the Golden Slipper, the world's richest race for two-year-olds. They went on to produce a string of champions, including a father and son, Octagonal and Lonhro, who are among the thoroughbreds now owned by Sheikh Mohammed.

The Inghams established Australia's biggest racing and breeding operation, with a stud in the Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, another stud in Cootamundra, in southern New South Wales, racing stables at Warwick Farm, Sydney, and Flemington, Melbourne, and two training complexes.

Not everyone in the industry was thrilled by news of the sale. Gai Waterhouse, a leading trainer, said: "It's just like what has happened to the corner store... They are all disappearing as big business takes over." Others suggested that megaplayers such as Sheikh Mohammed were set to monopolise horse racing, leaving smaller operators unable to compete at the big thoroughbred auctions.

But Nick Columb, an industry consultant, said: "I think it's marvellous... It brings Australia on to the world stage in a very serious way.

"The fact they have the confidence to invest that sort of money I think is wonderful for the future of the industry in this country."