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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 00:15 GMT 01:15 UK
Racehorse owners buy Man Utd shares
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex has led Man Utd to three successive titles
Irish racehorse owners JP McManus and John Magnier have emerged as the men behind the mystery firm which has bought a major holding in Manchester United.

The wealthy pair are horse racing associates of United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

The Cubic Expression Company became the second largest stakeholder in United after buying a 6.77% holding, worth about 30m, in the Premiership champions.

United's value rose 7% on Wednesday, as the share price increased by 11.75p to 172p, after the extent of Cubic's dealings emerged.

Cubic's purchase of 17.5million shares had sparked speculation in the City about the identity of the company, which is thought to be registered in the British Virgin Islands.

Istabraq owner JP McManus
McManus: Owner of champion hurdler Istabraq

McManus has achieved fame as a legendary turf gambler and owner of National Hunt stars such as three-time Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq.

Magnier owns Coolmore, the leading stud in Europe, and along with his wife has been a major shareholder in numerous Flat racing champions in recent years, most notably this season's Epsom and Irish Derby winner Galileo.

Both are good friends of Ferguson, who also owns horses stabled with top Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien at Ballydoyle.

Cubic's move has prompted talk of another possible takeover bid for United.

A statement from the company said: "Mr Magnier and Mr McManus have been investors for some time in Manchester United and took advantage of the recent weakness in the share price to increase their holding."

The club's deputy chief executive David Gill said on MUTV: "In terms of concern, there's no issue there as long as we know who's behind it and we don't clearly at the moment.

"It's a company which is reportedly based in the British Virgin Islands and we are endeavouring to find out who's behind it."

BSkyB remain the largest stakeholder in the club with 9.99% following the failure of their attempted takeover in 1999.

Coolmore Stud chief John Magnier
Magnier: Connected to Derby hero Galileo

Manchester United Plc's shares rose nearly 25p at one point to 185p after the club, the most valuable in the world, revealed that The Cubic Expression Company had bought 9.8 million shares in the firm within the last week.

The buy-up takes CEC's holding in Manchester United to 6.77%, more than double its previous stake.

The speculation comes the day after a consortium planning to take over English premiership club Leicester City withdrew their 26.4m offer.

And it follows rumours last week that an unknown foreign buyer was poised to bid for Manchester United, which last season claimed their third successive English Premier League title.

Shares in United, which claims 50 million fans worldwide, surged by almost 10% between Wednesday and Friday.

The latest rise pushes the value of the Plc up by more than 20m - almost enough to cover the cost of their recent signing Juan-Sebastian Veron.

Notification of CEC's share-buying spree is thought to have come from an address on the British Virgin Islands.

Major shareholder

Speculation over the identity of a potential bidder had centred on Dermot Desmond, the Irish entrepreneur who owns a major stake in Celtic.

BSkyB in 1998 had a 624m offer for Manchester United blocked by the UK government.

The broadcaster still owns 9.9% of the club, according to corporate information firm Hemscott.

Manchester United shares, which topped 4 in March last year, stood 9.75p higher at 170p in afternoon trade on Wednesday.

At the shares' peak, the club became the first to have a value of more than 1bn. At Tuesday's close it had a value of about 416m.

The club in April reported profits up 42% to 17.3m for the first six months of last season.

on.

See also:

02 Apr 01 | Business
Manchester United's profits soar
18 Jul 01 | Other Sports
Kinane to miss Galileo ride
09 Jun 01 | Epsom Derby
Irish joy at Epsom
07 Feb 01 | Football
Football's growing divide
07 Feb 01 | SOL
Man Utd's American dream
01 Jan 01 | Other Sports
McManus goes for Gold
19 Jul 01 | Football
The new players at Man Utd
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