Barchester Healthcare, one of Britain's biggest care home groups, is to be put up for sale in a deal that could net its owners north of £2.5 billion.
The Press Association understands the group's owners - the Irish business tycoons Dermot Desmond, JP McManus and John Magnier - have mandated investment bank JP Morgan to assess their options, the most likely of which is a sale.
The businessmen own Barchester through their investment vehicle Grove Investments and a formal sale process could be kicked off within weeks, sources said.
It is thought that several buyers have already expressed an interest, but only offers higher than £2.5 billion are being taken seriously.
Barchester boasts over 200 care homes that house 11,000 elderly people and employ 17,000 staff.
Its latest accounts filed on Companies House show that Barchester's turnover increased 5.3% to £563.9 million in 2016, with operating profit coming in 5.6% higher at £163.3 million.
The Irish trio first invested in Barchester in 1994, a year after the company was set up by Mike Parsons, and are in line for a bumper payday if a deal goes ahead.
Its attraction to a potential buyer, likely to be a private equity firm, is the fact that Barchester's primary focus is on privately paying residents.
This means it is less beholden to local authority funding, which has plummeted in recent years, piling pressure on the wider sector.
A sale would represent the second high-profile care homes group to come to the market this year, following HC-One, which was put up for sale in May with a price tag of £1 billion.
Mr McManus and Mr Magnier, known in Ireland for their involvement in the horse racing industry, used to own a stake in Manchester United.
The news comes as rival care homes group Four Seasons falls into the clutches of its lender H/2, marking the end of City financier Guy Hands' foray into the sector.
Mr Hands had owned Four Seasons through his private equity vehicle Terra Firma.
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