Stand and deliver . . . how Blarney Highwayman pitted friends against each other
TWO aristocratic friends went to court yesterday in a bitter legal dispute over a horse worth just £18,000 (€21,500).
Charles Colthurst, owner of Blarney Castle in Cork, and bloodstock agent Hugo Merry fought a civil action before Cork Circuit Court over the ownership of a horse called Blarney Highwayman.
Mr Merry, whose mansion at Kilshannig in north Cork has links to the family of Lady Diana Spencer, took legal action against Mr Colthurst after claiming the horse was the subject of a 60:40 ownership agreement. The court ruled in his favour.
Mr Colthurst had insisted the animal had been "gifted" to him, and that he had also looked after the animal's stabling and training costs.
The dispute erupted between both men -- friends through the equestrian industry -- after the horse won a point-to-point meeting in north Cork last year.
Mr Merry -- whose wife, Elaine, is a sister of the actress Alison Doody -- told the court he had not been informed the horse was running, and he sent a text to Mr Colthurst expressing his disappointment.
The text was signed: "Your partner Hugo."
He then wrote a number of letters to Mr Colthurst about the ownership agreement over Blarney Highwayman, but failed to receive any replies.
The horse was eventually sold at the Doncaster sales in the UK earlier this year for £18,000 and Mr Merry said he was now entitled to his share of the proceeds. The horse would have been worth over €100,000 but had a bone problem.
However, Mr Colthurst denied that there was any partnership agreement in place, and said he had been gifted the horse as a consequence of its bone condition.
Mr Merry said that, despite the problem, the horse was "sound" for racing and he denied that it had no value.
"I was getting reports from experts that this was a good horse. This horse was not a 100pc gift to him (Mr Colthurst)," he told the court.
"I was doing him a hell of a turn. I anticipated this horse would make between €100,000 and €200,000 before the ring bone was discovered.
"He would still have been worth between €20,000 and €30,000 as the ring bone was not on a part of the bone that would wear away. It was purely cosmetic and would not affect his performance," he said.
The horse's trainer verified that he had heard the animal was the focus of a partnership arrangement.
However, Mr Colthurst said that: "Hugo told me I could take him away and see what I could do with him ... I believed all along he was our horse."
Mr Colthurst said he was "shocked" by Mr Merry's partnership claims in the wake of the point-to-point victory.
Judge Sean O'Donnabhain said he was satisfied there was a partnership agreement in place and ruled in favour of Mr Merry.
"It is clear to me that at no stage did he (Mr Merry) believe the horse was valueless," he said.
Judge O'Donnabhain said that Mr Merry was entitled to a 60pc share of the £18,000 that the horse made -- and he also awarded him his costs in the case.
Neither man commented on the case as they left Cork courthouse.
Mr Colthurst hit the headlines last year when he called for the minimum wage to be cut, arguing that Ireland had become too uncompetitive compared to other European countries.
His remarks sparked an outcry, with the Socialist Party claiming it was "outrageous" for a man with a castle, horses and private fishing rights to hit out at the most vulnerable members of society.
Mr Colthurst -- a noted fan of equestrian sports -- inherited the Blarney estate from his father, Richard, almost a decade ago.
Blarney Castle and estate came into the Colthurst family by way of their 18th Century ancestor, James Jefferyes, a Scottish-born officer in William of Orange's army, who purchased it from the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.
Blarney ranks as one of Ireland's top tourist attractions and among those who have kissed the Blarney stone over the years are Winston Churchill, Laurel & Hardy, Prince, Michael Madsen, Sir Walter Scott and Billy Connolly.