A tale of murky financial record keeping, non-compliance with requests for information, and the involvement of a former prison officer from Portlaoise have resulted in a story that could be ripped from the pages of an airport bestseller.
Ireland’s position in the world of National Hunt racing is without compare in any other sport. Irish horses over the past two decades have dominated the biggest races at the biggest Festivals and the sport has attracted millionaires and business leaders, including Michael O’Leary, for now, into its ranks.
As of this morning, the favourite for the Grand National Aintree in April and for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March are both trained in Ireland. Tiger Roll is owned by O’Leary and is in line for a historic three in a row wins over the big fences at Aintree.
The ownership of Kemboy though is a lot more complex and yesterday resulted in both the horse and 29 others in the ownership of the Supreme Horse Racing Club being suspended from all races until further notice.
It was not a decision taken lightly. Horse Racing Ireland had received a number of complaints about the club, across a number of different areas since the summer. As the regulator, they were obliged to investigate but efforts to do so with the cooperation of the Club’s manager Steve Massey and it’s Irish representative Jim Balfry have proven fruitless.
A meeting in July was the last to have taken place. At that time Massey undertook to file the necessary paperwork effectively confirming the beneficial ownership of the horses, how many of them owned each one and to what extent.
The rules of the club are that each horse is owned by a group of no more than 20 individuals. They pay an upfront cost and then a monthly amount to cover the cost of having the horse in training with Champion trainer Willie Mullins.
It’s a great way to get involved in the thrill of ownership and Horse Racing Ireland has, over the past two years, run a very successful campaign to get people interested. In 2017 Sport for Business ran a syndicate of members and watched our horse run at Fairyhouse. It was a great experience and we will do it again early in the New Year.
It does have some rules though and that is where the Supreme Horse Racing Club has fallen foul. It has become a major operation and may have simply overwhelmed those who were in charge. Jim Balfry first got into the world of racehorse syndicate ownership when he joined his work syndicate while working as a prison officer in Portlaoise as far back as 1995.
In 2010 he retired to work full time with the club.
After continually asking for the information the patience of Horse Racing Ireland wore out last night when they issued a lengthy statement, obviously poured over in detail by legal advisors, stating that the club and the horse in its ownership were suspended.
There is a pathway back for Kemboy and a Tipperary solicitor Patrick Kennedy is managing the affairs of a number of syndicate members looking to take over the club.
First though they will need to untangle what appears to be a tight knot. Who pays for Kempoy and the others keep at the moment is unclear. If Willie Mullins is housing as many as 30 horse for the club that would be an issue of major concern to him and to the sport.
Entries for Cheltenham close in the first week of January. The Michaelmas sittings for the High Court if it were to go that far run until 20th December. The clock is ticking.
Here is the full statement of Horse racing Ireland on the matter:
Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) confirm today that all registrations of horses under the Supreme Horse Racing Club banner have been voided following the failure of the Club’s Trustee to provide HRI with information requested.
It means that Supreme Horse Racing Club will not be permitted to be owners or part-owners of racehorses registered under Rules in Ireland.
Horse Racing Ireland has consistently sought, and not received, the requested complete members’ information for horses running under Supreme Horse Racing Club.
Despite repeated requests, Supreme Horse Racing Club has failed to provide the members’ details required under Horse Racing Ireland Directive 15 Racehorse Ownership, and as a result of not receiving this requested information, HRI is unable to stand over the shareholding of each horse – a fundamental aspect of any owner registration.
After consulting with our legal advisors, the decision has been taken to void the owner registration for all horses run under Supreme Horse Racing Club in accordance with powers under HRI Directive 15 and Rule 123 (iv) of the Rules of Racing.
Horse Racing Ireland is disappointed that it is necessary to take this step but due to the lack of engagement and failure to provide the necessary information there is no alternative but to withdraw approval of the Club and to cancel its registrations as a recognised Club.
Following complaints from Supreme Horse Racing Club members, and the introduction of Directive 15 – Racehorse Ownership in July, HRI met with Supreme Horse Racing Club Trustee Steve Massey on July 31, 2019. At that meeting there was a commitment by Supreme Horse Racing Club to file the necessary paperwork with HRI.
There was repeated correspondence in August, September and October, seeking members’ information from Supreme Horse Racing Club, which yielded no or inadequate responses.
With further concerns having been raised with HRI over the administration of the Club, on October 7 HRI notified Supreme Horse Racing Club that no withdrawals could be made from the Club’s HRI account until full members’ details were provided. This request was reaffirmed on October 17 and with limited information forthcoming from Supreme Horse Racing Club, the Club’s owner registration was suspended on October 22.
A meeting was arranged with the Club’s Trustee, Steve Massey, for November 4 which he failed to attend without explanation. No subsequent correspondence has been received, including in response to a final deadline this week, and Horse Racing Ireland has therefore made the decision to void the Club’s registrations.
Horse Racing Ireland Director of Racing, Jason Morris, said:
“Horse Racing Ireland has received a significant amount of correspondence from concerned members of the Club since we suspended the registration last month, and we will be in contact with any of the Club members we have details for, to update them on our decision today. We will be sharing our information with our colleagues in the BHA. We have also reported our concerns around the administration of the club to the relevant authorities.
“This week we have met with solicitor Patrick Kennedy of P.J O’Meara Solicitors in Thurles, who has been approached by a number of Supreme Horse Racing Club members laying claim to ownership of the horses. That grouping has expressed their intention, over time, to form a new ownership structure. We will continue to work with this group, and others, should they materialise. Patrick Kennedy can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
“HRI is open to accept the re-registration of these horses under accepted ownership structures. HRI cannot adjudicate as to the shareholding of these horses. In order to do so, HRI advises members to seek their own legal counsel or contact Patrick Kennedy in order for agreement to be found among the shareholders of each horse.”
Image credits, Inpho.ie