Ben Maher court case: ‘I am the one owed money’ [H&H VIP]

  • London and European gold medallist Ben Maher is fighting back against his long-term supporters Mike and Emma Phillips — who claim he made “secret profits” of £700,000 from horse sales and purchases during their 8-year relationship (news, 5 December).

    In Ben’s defence and counter-claim papers — filed with the High Court in London last week — he says he is owed money through sales commission and “equine services”.

    In our last issue, H&H revealed that the Phillipses had lodged two claims at the High Court.

    One seeks the sale of Ben’s Olympic ride, Tripple X III, in whom the Phillipses bought a half-share for £250,000 in 2009.

    The other claim seeks to recover £700,000, which, the Phillipses allege, Ben pocketed by misleading them about prices while acting as their agent. With costs and damages, the Phillipses’ claim could reach £1.5million.

    Emphatic denial

    But Ben’s defence and counter-claim alleges that it is the Phillipses who owe him money — for “equine services”, stud fees and sales commission accrued since he started riding for them in 2005.

    Ben, 30, agrees that the home-bred Tripple X must be sold, as the asset of a partnership that has now come to an end. But he disputes that the Phillipses have a personal interest in the 11-year-old stallion, claiming he is part-owned corporately by their Quainton Stud.

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

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

    Mike and Emma Phillips say their suspicions were aroused earlier this year. They claim Ben made “secret profits” on six horses, including Wonderboy III (to the tune of £222,496), Awanti (£41,653) and Tackeray (£214,201).

    But Ben — who emphatically denies the claims — says the Phillipses still owe him commission for the sales of Awanti (£2,500) and Wonderboy (£37,069).

    Ben is also seeking a declaration that he is entitled to 10% of stud fees on their stallions and 10% sales commission on horses he has ridden in which the Phillipses have a stake. He also wants the court to declare that he is the joint owner of Tripple X’s dam Calve B and her foals.

    Injunction sought before Hickstead

    Last week, Emma Phillips told H&H that they had done all they 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”.

    However, Ben’s defence and counter-claim papers state that, shortly after London 2012, Mike Phillips informed him that: “The gold medal had benefited Mr Maher but done nothing for Mr Phillips.”

    The document continues: “Mr Phillips said that he preferred to win money not medals.”

    Ben also alleges that Mr Phillips — who is a multi-millionaire property developer — tried to injunct against him riding Tripple X at the Royal International Horse Show this summer, where the horse was on the British Nations Cup team and won the King George V Gold Cup. This is not true, say the Phillipses.

    Mrs Phillips told H&H: “We are frustrated by Ben’s defence as it fails to respond to many of the serious aspects of our claims against him.

    “It’s disappointing that we have been forced to resort to legal action. We are determined for any wrongs to be righted.”

    The Phillipses say Ben was only due sales commission on horses in which he did not have a stake and had personally caused to be sold. They agree he is entitled to 10% of stallion stud fees — but say his share “has been more than offset” by what he owes them.

    Ben declined to comment.

    Where did it all go wrong?

    Emma Phillips says she approached Ben in 2005, after reading (in H&H) that he was short of rides. Ben, then 22, had just won the Hickstead Derby on Alfredo II.

    “We treated Ben as one of our family,” said Mrs Phillips — something Ben disputes in his defence and counter-claim papers.

    According to Ben, his relationship with the Phillipses “became problematic” following the purchase of a horse called Vigolo Z. Ben was disappointed with its performance and it was returned — for less than the original purchase price.

    Matters came to a head in a meeting at Quainton Stud in July 2013. The Phillipses accused Ben of financial irregularities regarding horse sales. Ben claims Mike Phillips “threatened to obtain injunctions against him and ruin his career.”

    Earlier this year, Ben obtained a wealthy new supporter in the American owner Jane Clark. He partnered Ms Clark’s mare Cella to team gold and individual silver at the 2013 European Championships and the London Global Champions Tour grand prix — in effect relegating Tripple X to second string.

    How global horse dealing works

    The case of Wonderboy III sheds light on the complexities of global horse dealing.
    ➤ In Ben’s court papers, he states that he bought Wonderboy jointly with the Phillipses for £400,000
    ➤ Ben says he paid for his share in kind using four of his father’s horses — including Hickstead Derby winner Alfredo
    ➤  In 2010 Wonderboy was sold to Ahmad Saber Hamcho of Syria for ¤950,000 (£796,000). Irish Olympic rider Billy Twomey received a fee of €80,000 (£67,000) as broker
    ➤  Ben says he and the Phillipses split €870,000 (£730,000) equally and that he was told to use £200,000 as part-payment for their share in Tripple X
    ➤  Ben claims he is still owed £37,000 by the Phillipses in commission on Wonderboy — but they claim he owes them £222,496 from the sale

    This story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (12 December 2013 edition)