Racing: High Court rules Webber and Sherwood colluded over bidding

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The Independent Online
A RACEHORSE owner has won a High Court action against the Newmarket- based Curragh Bloodstock Agency after he was prompted into buying a horse for twice its real value by collusive bidding between the trainer Paul Webber, then an employee of the agency, and another trainer, Oliver Sherwood.

Gary Heywood was unaware that Webber, the bloodstock agent he employed to advise him, was also an adviser to the seller of the horse. Judge William Crawford, at the High Court in London, said that Webber's old friend Sherwood agreed to bid against him so as to push Heywood to his limit.

Heywood ended up paying 28,000 guineas for a four-year-old gelding worth no more than 14,000 guineas. The horse was not a success and was eventually withdrawn from training.

The judge awarded Heywood's company, Exterior Profiles Ltd, pounds 51,460 damages, plus interest and costs, against Webber's former employers, the Curragh Bloodstock Agency.

The agency, which strongly denied Heywood's accusations and called expert evidence that said the horse was worth what he paid for it, was refused leave to appeal, but can still apply to the Court of Appeal for leave.

Heywood bought the bay gelding, which became known as Pru's Profiles, at Doncaster in 1995. His reservations about the gelding were met with reassurances from Webber - and from Sherwood, who said it was the "star of the show".

The bids slowed down at 14,000 guineas, leaving just Sherwood bidding against Webber. At 25,000 guineas, Webber told Heywood it was worth another bid, and when Sherwood upped his offer to 27,000 guineas, Heywood agreed to a final bid at 28,000 guineas.

Heywood was unaware that Webber had bought the horse in Ireland a year earlier for 8,000 guineas on behalf of a client, Jan Steinman, who was the seller at Doncaster.

In his evidence, Webber, who now trains at Banbury, insisted that he told Heywood about his connection with the horse, and both he and Sherwood denied collusion.

However, the judge rejected their evidence and ruled that no competent agent would have advised Heywood to pay more than 14,000 guineas. There was a conflict between Webber's duty to Heywood and his interest in Steinman's profitability, he said.

"I infer from the evidence that, from 14,000 guineas onwards, there was collusive bidding," he said. "Mr Webber and Mr Sherwood were pushing Mr Heywood to his limit."

The damages awarded for what the judge said amounted to a fraud on Heywood covered the price paid for the horse plus training and stabling fees.

The Jockey Club, who license all trainers, were last night reviewing the judgement. "We will take stock of the finding before deciding whether any action on our part is appropriate," John Maxse, the Jockey Club's spokesman, said.