Billed as a rare investment fund focused on the world of Thoroughbred racing, Phoenix Thoroughbreds is off to a spectacular start with leading Longines Kentucky Oaks candidate Dream Tree and Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve hopefuls Mourinho and Gronkowski to show from an initial group of just 12 horses.
Amer Abdulaziz, a native of Bahrain and resident of Dubai, is the man behind Phoenix Thoroughbreds, which made a giant splash at American and European horse auctions last year in spending more than $25 million as a new force at the top of the market.
The impact at the racetrack in U.S. has been just as immediate, albeit with a small contingent to this point. From 10 starts in the United States, Phoenix runners have racked up seven wins, highlighted by Dream Tree’s victories in the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos and Grade 2 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita and Mourinho’s score last month in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Mourinho will be in the spotlight again at Oaklawn on Monday as the potential favorite for the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes, looking to match the 10 Derby qualifying points he earned in the Smarty Jones.
“Certainly, we could not be happier with the results so far,” said Abdulaziz, chief executive officer for the company formed in Luxemborg and registered in London. “I love horses, they are beautiful animals and I have been around them all my life, but this is a business model, and America is the biggest market and is going to be our focus. To be in line for the Kentucky Oaks and, hopefully, the Kentucky Derby, those are the kind of races that are our targets, and so we have to be pleased to be in this position right away.”
Abdulaziz and his family have long been involved with Arabian racing. He said he was exposed to the Thoroughbred game while attending the University of California at Berkeley, making the short jaunt to Golden Gate Fields for the races, and has been fascinated with the Thoroughbred industry. Abdulaziz and bloodstock adviser Kerri Radcliffe discussed his vision for a high-end stable for a number of years before the plan was set in motion last year with investors on board.
Within a few weeks at juvenile sales in Florida last March, Phoenix snatched up Mourinho, Dream Tree, and Diamondsandpearls, who landed an initial victory for the stable in impressive fashion at Santa Anita last July. Mourinho and Dream Tree also scored in their respective debuts, and Dream Tree quickly rose to the top of her division with three successive stakes triumphs, most recently prevailing by 3 3/4 lengths as a 3-to-10 favorite in the Las Virgenes on Feb. 4 for trainer Bob Baffert. She is pointing for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks on April 7.
Mourinho broke through in the Smarty Jones on Jan. 15 after finishing second in the Speakeasy Stakes at Santa Anita and Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar late last year.
Phoenix’s sleeper for the spring classics could be Gronkowski, who has dominated two straight races on synthetic tracks in England for Radcliffe’s husband, trainer Jeremy Noseda. Named after Rob Gronkowski, the ebullient star tight end for the New England Patriots, the colt is scheduled for a race at Kempton Park on March 1 that is a potential new path to the Kentucky Derby as part of a qualifying series launching this spring with one carved-out spot for a European-based horse in the Derby’s maximum field of 20.
"He is a brilliant horse, a lovely horse," Abdulaziz said. "We will give him another race [in England] to try and qualify him and we will take it from there. If he runs well, he will definitely be going to America."