Top showjumper in £1.5m High Court battle with owners [H&H VIP]

At London 2012, the long-term partnership between Ben Maher and Mike and Emma Phillips of Quainton Stud helped Team GBR to their historic gold.

The Phillipses — who co-own Ben’s Olympic ride, the home-bred Tripple X III, and had supported him since 2005 — were celebrated as loyal British owners, contributing to our medal success.

But that golden relationship has since broken down. Earlier this month, the Phillipses’ lawyers filed papers with the High Court — a copy of which has been obtained by H&H — claiming that Ben owes them nearly £700,000 from horse purchases and sales made while acting as their agent.

Mike and Emma Phillips, of Quainton Stud, have backed Ben since 2005

Mike and Emma Phillips, of Quainton Stud, have backed Ben since 2005

The Phillipses claim that Ben led them to buy and sell horses for prices far removed from their true values; that he “kept these monies and thereby made a secret profit… to which Quainton Stud is entitled”.

Ben Maher’s lawyer told H&H that he did not wish to comment on the allegations until their defence papers had been filed with the High Court. Ben is expected to deny the claims.

High value horse sales

The Phillipses have submitted a claim for nearly £700,000, relating to the sale of 6 horses, including Wonderboy III and Robin Hood W. The sums with regard to individual sales range from £8,000 to £222,000 in the case of Wonderboy. They are also asking the court to account for all prize-money received by Ben in riding the Phillipses’ horses.

Wonderboy III is one of the horses mentioned in the Phillipses' claim

Wonderboy III is one of the horses mentioned in the Phillipses’ claim

When interest on the overall figure, plus the Phillipses’ litigation costs and damages are included, the total amount of the claim is likely to be closer to £1.5million.

Court papers allege that some of the money obtained by Ben was used to fund improvements to and repay debts on his own Elsenham Stud, on the Herts-Essex border — and to buy a property in Wellington, Florida.

The legal documents also reveal that in 2013, the Phillipses “gradually became aware” of these matters, beginning with the circumstances surrounding the horses Vigolo Z and Robin Hood.

According to the court papers, Ben told Mr Phillips that, with regard to Robin Hood, “it was not wrong for him to own a horse and sell it to someone [referring to Mr and Mrs Phillips] at a profit”.

‘Broken-hearted and betrayed’

Tripple X, the horse on whom Ben won team gold at Greenwich, is not among the 6 horses mentioned in this claim.

But the 11-year-old stallion is the subject of a separate High Court action — relating to his ownership — which was filed by the Phillipses’ lawyers at the same time (see below).

It is a sad end to the relationship that — according to the court papers — began after Mrs Phillips “saw an article [in H&H] which said that Mr Maher was short of horses to ride”.

H&H asked Mrs Phillips if she wished to comment on the case.

She told us: “We treated Ben as one of our family, working with him since 2005 when he was an aspiring equestrian at the tender age of 22.

“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 utterly betrayed.

“It is now in the hands of the court.”

Ben Maher’s lawyer told H&H that he did not wish to comment on the allegations until their defence papers had been filed with the High Court.

That was expected to happen this week — and will be reported by H&H in due course.

The Tripple X case — could Ben lose the ride?

Mr and Mrs Phillips have lodged a separate High Court claim relating to their 50% ownership of Ben’s Olympic partner Tripple X III.

Ben's Olympic partner Tripple X is the subject of a separate claim

Ben’s Olympic partner Tripple X is the subject of a separate claim

Court papers state that the Phillipses bought a half-share in Tripple X for £250,000 after being approached at Olympia in 2009.

They want the court to recognise their 50% ownership, formally declare their partnership with Ben to be over — and order the sale of Tripple X, as the asset of that partnership, plus the payment of costs and damages.

What happens next?

Ben’s legal team is expected to file his defence this week

The case could be resolved in one of three ways:

1) It is settled out of court

2) The court gives a “summary” (written) judgement. This may happen if the court considers that either the claimant or the defendant has no real prospect of succeeding

3) The case is heard by a judge at a full trial

This exclusive news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (5 December, 2013 edition)