Conflict Of Interests

Horse Trainer or Trader

Horse Trainer



Many trainers started out as hot-walkers, or exercise riders (riding boys), yearling-breakers, jockeys or stable assistants. They compete with one another and are usually secretive, keeping “the game” to themselves. Trainers, a proud lot, always regard themselves as professionals, i.e. experts for hire; and not as “employees” of the owners, in the common sense. There is a saying on the “backside” (i.e. common terminology for the stable area) that “owners should be treated like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed bull…..”.  Fortunately, with an increase of knowledgeable owners’ involvement, and a new breed of modern businessmen-trainers, they are changing their attitude in this area.


“Training” in this field is akin to the role of an athletic coach. The trainers will help spot and obtain talented horses for the owners, take responsibility for the horses’ health, and their training programs including their feed and feed supplements, any need for “sports-type” treatments such as poultices and bandaging, and understanding of when to call for veterinary care. The trainers will keep an eye out for injuries or the developing problems, monitor each horse’s mood and psychology, and give their judgment on the best work out and racing schedule for each horse. There is never an “off-season” for race horse trainers, as opposed to athletic coaches, who work seven days a week, every week of the year, and nightlife is a long forgotten memory. Successful trainers normally rise at 4:00 a.m. and work 15-hour days.



Horse Trainer



Horse trader is one who buys horses from stud farms or yearling or weanling sale carnivals and then sells the horses to owners, usually at handsome profits. In most advanced Countries, a horse trader or bloodstock agent agrees to abide by the Federation’s Code of Ethics and is held to account via a complaint system. A question now arises is whether a horse trainer who habitually acts as horse trader gives rise to any conflict of interests, as the horse trainer who is not a member of the Federation of Bloodstock Agents, does not have to follow the aforesaid code of working ethics.



What is conflict of interests



There is no legal objection as such to the same trainer acting for both the stud farm and an owner-purchaser whose interests may not be the same, provided both parties have given their informed consent to his doing so. Nevertheless, the practice of a trainer acting for both parties in a horse-transaction, where there is an inherent risk of conflict of interest, has frequently been condemned by other owners. A more general principle is that as a fiduciary, an agent must not, without first obtaining the informed consent of his principal, put himself in a position where his duty to his principal is likely to conflict with his own interest or the interest of another principal. Any gain made in circumstances where a conflict or significant possibility of conflict existed must be accounted for. A principal who has full knowledge of the facts may however assent to the agent’s act and sometimes his instructions may be so specific as to leave the agent with no discretion, and hence to exclude this principle. Thus, an agent employed to buy should not be the seller himself, even though he sells at the market price, nor may an agent appointed to sell/buy the horse himself. However fair the transaction, it may be set aside by the principal, unless the agent had made full disclosure of all the material facts and the nature and extent of his interest and obtained his principal’s consent. It is not sufficient that the agent has put his principal on inquiry; moreover the burden of proving full disclosure lies on the agent.


Sometimes the agent finds himself in a position where his duty to one principal conflicts with his duty to the other. He may then be in breach of duty to one by failure to disclose information relevant to the other – i.e. information which he would be in breach of duty to the other in disclosing without consent. Here, he may not make a profit at the expense of either, but may well cause loss for which he may be liable in deceit, or in breach of contract, and also in equity.



Choosing a Trainer



Once the excitement or emotional commitment to owning a horse has been made the process of selecting a trainer becomes crucial. In selecting a Trainer, there are three basic factors that you need to weigh:-


a.     training costs or the stable’s charges. In Hong Kong, the training costs and expenses for most stables are the same, since it is the Hong Kong Jockey Club who prescribes the charges. However, a few stables would ask owners for additional costs, such as “Guinness Beers” for the horses and chiropractor’s charges;


b.     the amount of time that the trainer will spend in looking after the horses in the stable;


c.     whether the taste and philosophy of the trainer suit you.



In Hong Kong, a number of trainers act as bloodstock agent for owners and spend a considerable amount of their time in yearling or weanling sales abroad. A few trainers have a habit of persuading owners to retire their “bad” horses and buy “good” ones from them. It is, therefore, advisable for owners not to choose those trainers who do not look after their best interests. In this connection, the writer thinks that the Hong Kong Jockey Club should introduce new rules to regulate trainers’ duties and obligations in order to protect horse owners’ interest, since trainers are regarded in law as independent persons and not as employees of the Hong Kong Jockey Club.


There are, however, a few “wisdoms” which may help in your relationship with your trainer:-


a.       be Honest to the point of Bluntness;

b.       remember “Luck”, and avoid the temptation to Blame;

c.       when in doubt, don’t Suspect…..just Ask;

d.       when you ask, Listen & Analyse;

e.       if at any point you find you don’t trust your trainer, you should, both for the trainer’s sake and yours, Get Another.



George YC Mok

Senior Partner

George YC Mok & Co

Copyright © GYC Mok 2001



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