London Olympic show jumping team gold medalist Ben Maher has hit back at claims from long-term backers Mike and Emma Phillips that he made ÂŁ700,000 in â€śsecret profitsâ€ť from sales of their horses during their eight-year professional relationship.
The Phillipses, multi-million dollar property developers, have lodged two civil lawsuits at Londonâ€™s High Court, one alleging Maher misled them over horse sales and the other seeking the sale of Maherâ€™s Olympic partner Tripple X, in whom the Phillipses acquired an interest for ÂŁ250,000 in 2009â€”after which the horseâ€™s value escalated to potential millionsâ€”and want their ownership acknowledged by the court.
But Maherâ€™s defense and counter-claim (in papers filed) alleges that the Phillipses owe him for extensive services he provided during their association, which began in 2005 when Maher, 30, was a 22-year-old star-in-waiting.
Court papers reveal that the acrimonious split goes back to early 2013, and that the parties took steps to end their formal business partnerships on or around Aug. 1.
The battle over sale prices began when Vigolo was sold back quickly to his original owner for less than the price paid. The Phillipsesâ€™ suspicions were aroused and they began investigating past transactions.
They claim that they discovered Maher had pocketed â€śsecret profitsâ€ť on Tackeray. They claim that Tackeray was allegedly sold to the United States for $850,000 rather than the $500,000 sum they were told.
Tackeray was purchased from the Phillipsesâ€™ Quainton Stud by the Bruheim familyâ€™s Nordic Lights Farm of Texas in March, and has been competed by both 20-year-old Eirin Bruheim and her trainer, Lauren Hough in 2013. In a Horse & Hound report on the sale, Emma Phillips was quoted as saying she was unaware of who actually bought Tackeray at the time of the transaction. â€śItâ€™s all done through agents and trainers, so no we donâ€™t know who has bought him and probably wonâ€™t until they bring him out,â€ť Emma said in the Horse & Hound article.
The Phillipsesâ€™ suit alleges that Maher pocketed secret profits in five other sales as wellâ€”Quirifino (10,000 Euros), Awanti (50,000 Euros), Vigolo (126,000 Euros), Robin Hood (ÂŁ80,000) and Wonderboy III (ÂŁ222,496). The Phillipsesâ€™ claim could escalate to ÂŁ1.5 million, with costs. â€śWe did all we could to provide the conditions that led to Benâ€™s fantastic success at the Olympics last year and now feel broken-hearted and betrayed,â€ť said Emma. They claim Maher used â€śsecret profitsâ€ť to pay off debts on his barn in England and towards the purchase of a property in Wellington.
Maherâ€™s defense papers contend that the Phillipses produced no evidence of false invoicing. He seeks a legal declaration he is due 10 percent of all stud fees on their stallions and 10 percent commission on sales of any horse in which they have a stake that he has competed.
Maher agrees Tripple X should be sold but disputes that the Phillipses have a personal stake, claiming the stallion is part-owned corporately by their Quainton Stud. Maher says he kept faith with an undertaking to ride Tripple X while the business partnership between he and the Phillipses was being dissolved but says Mike Phillips tried to obtain a court injunction to prevent Tripple X from competing at the Hickstead CSIO (England) in August, where Tripple X was slated for the British Nations Cup team and also went onto the win the King George V Gold Cup.
Maher now spends part of the year in Wellington, Fla., and obtained additional patronage from American backer Jane Clark after London 2012. Maher rode Clarkâ€™s horse Cella to team gold and individual silver at the 2013 European Championships (Denmark), and victory in the new London Global Champions Tour Grand Prix.
Court papers reveal the complexities of global horse dealing. Maher says he and the Phillipses jointly acquired Wonderboy for ÂŁ400,000. Maher paid for his share â€śin kindâ€ť with four horses belonging to his father. Wonderboy was sold in May 2010 for 950,000 Euros, with Irish Olympic rider Billy Twomey receiving 80,000 Euros as broker.
Maherâ€™s defense claims that he and the Phillipses split 870,000 Euros equally, and Mike Phillips told Maher to take the equivalent of ÂŁ200,000 as part-payment for the Quainton Stud share in Tripple X. Maher claims he is owed ÂŁ37,000 by the Phillipses in commission on Wonderboy.
Maher became the world No. 1 jumper in August, overtaken only last week by teammate Scott Brash.