Dubai sheikh buys Aiken land for horse training facility

AIKEN - The ruling sheikh of Dubai has purchased a large parcel of land in Aiken County with the intent of building a private thoroughbred training facility.

Darley America, the U.S. arm of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's thoroughbred racing empire, has expanded its presence in Aiken with the purchase of 360 acres in Montmorenci for a training facility.

The deal closed Wednesday afternoon. The land used previously for agribusiness will continue to be green space, with the new facility featuring a one-mile dirt training track, said Jimmy Bell, Darley America president. The site is about six miles from the Aiken Training Track.

"Aiken has a history with thoroughbred racing that doesn't have to be researched," Bell said. "The horses who've trained in Aiken have a tremendous record and have had great success. Aiken is a place that has stood the test of time and has a history of developing young horses into racehorses."

In addition to retaining the area's green space, the training facility will provide environmentally clean jobs, said Lee Christian, South Carolina Thoroughbred Owners' and Breeders' Association president.

"It's a feather in the Aiken area's cap to have such a global presence as Darley make a sizable investment to showcase Aiken as a wonderful place to train horses," Christian said.

There's no time frame for when construction may begin on the facility or when it will be built out, Bell said.

For the time being, Darley horses in Aiken will continue to be trained at the Aiken Training Track, he said. There are no immediate plans to sell the property Darley purchased from Stonerside Stable on Sept. 1, 2008, including the two barns at the training track.

"Having seen what he's (Sheikh Mohammed) done in Saratoga and in Lexington, this is fantastic for Aiken," said Samantha Charles, Greater Aiken Area Chamber of Commerce equine steering committee chairwoman.

Meybohm Realtors real estate agent Suzy Haslup had been working with Darley since last spring.

"I'm so pleased that Darley has been able to acquire one of the most sought-after parcels of agricultural property in the county," said Haslup. "The benefits to Aiken to keep this quality of an operation here is immense."

Darley will prepare yearlings and 2-year-olds during the winter and spring at the training facility, Bell said. Darley has about 65 horses training at the Aiken Training Track.

"There's the history, the location, the weather, and (Aiken is) an ideal place," Bell said. "Our horses will get a little bit of everything."