2 trainers settle track surface suit

Monkton man accused of stealing turf formula

July 10, 2002|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A Cecil County horse trainer agreed yesterday to settle the $4 million lawsuit he filed against a Monkton trainer he accused of stealing his secret formula for artificial turf.

Michael W. Dickinson reached a settlement with Thomas H. Voss yesterday morning, just before jury selection was scheduled to begin in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Dickinson and Voss declined to discuss terms of the settlement, citing a confidentiality provision included in the agreement.

Dickinson quickly left the courthouse without comment. Voss told reporters he is glad the case was settled.

"I couldn't be happier about the way things have worked out," he said.

Dickinson sued Voss in August, alleging that Voss "misappropriated or stole" the formula of sand, rubber bits and secret ingredients that Dickinson developed for his horses to run on when he opened his track, Tapeta Farm, near North East in 1998.

He accused Voss of violating Maryland's Trade Secrets Act by either hiring the same consultant to build his track or directing an employee to sneak onto Dickinson's property to steal a sample.

Voss denied the allegation. He said yesterday that he used his own formula when he opened his track in Monkton in 1999.

"Every track is different," Voss said. "It's just like making chicken soup; it's never going to be the same, no matter what you use to build it or how you build it."

Dickinson and Voss are well-known within racing circles.

Voss, 51, is one of the nation's top steeplechase trainers. Dickinson, 52, was a champion steeplechase trainer in England before he came to the United States in the 1980s. His gelding Da Hoss won the Breeders' Cup Mile in 1996 and 1998.

The trial had been scheduled to run four days and Dickinson's lawyers had planned to ask Judge Robert N. Dugan to have jurors tour Voss' and Dickinson's tracks.

Voss said that he would have welcomed the chance to show jurors his facility, known as Atlanta Hall.

"Dickinson's the one who's had this policy of secrecy, not me," he said.

Dickinson says on his Web site that his turf took four years to develop and is the safest surface available for training horses. "I'm confident we would have prevailed," said Ronald M. Cherry, Dickinson's attorney.

Both sides said they had experts lined up to testify in support of their cases.

Attorneys for Dickinson and Voss refused to say whether the settlement required a cash payment by either side.

William F.C. Marlow Jr., Voss' attorney, said that Dickinson was as anxious to avoid a trial as Voss because a trial would have forced Dickinson to disclose the ingredients of his formula.

"The settlement allows Mr. Dickinson to maintain any secrecy of whatever it is he claims should remain secret," Marlow said.

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