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 £700,000 in “secret profits” from sales of their horses during their eight-year professional relationship.
The Phillipses, multi-million dollar property developers, have lodged two civil lawsuits at London’s High Court, one alleging Maher misled them over horse sales and the other seeking the sale of Maher’s Olympic partner Tripple X, in whom the Phillipses acquired an interest for £250,000 in 2009—after which the horse’s value escalated to potential millions—and want their ownership acknowledged by the court.
But Maher’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 Phillipses’ suspicions were aroused and they began investigating past transactions.
They claim that they discovered Maher had pocketed “secret profits” 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 Phillipses’ Quainton Stud by the Bruheim family’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. “It’s all done through agents and trainers, so no we don’t know who has bought him and probably won’t until they bring him out,” Emma said in the Horse & Hound article.
The Phillipses’ suit alleges that Maher pocketed secret profits in five other sales as well—Quirifino (10,000 Euros), Awanti (50,000 Euros), Vigolo (126,000 Euros), Robin Hood (£80,000) and Wonderboy III (£222,496). The Phillipses’ claim could escalate to £1.5 million, with costs. “We did all we could to provide the conditions that led to Ben’s fantastic success at the Olympics last year and now feel broken-hearted and betrayed,” said Emma. They claim Maher used “secret profits” to pay off debts on his barn in England and towards the purchase of a property in Wellington.
Maher’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 Clark’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 £400,000. Maher paid for his share “in kind” 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.
Maher’s defense claims that he and the Phillipses split 870,000 Euros equally, and Mike Phillips told Maher to take the equivalent of £200,000 as part-payment for the Quainton Stud share in Tripple X. Maher claims he is owed £37,000 by the Phillipses in commission on Wonderboy.
Maher became the world No. 1 jumper in August, overtaken only last week by teammate Scott Brash.