Unable to pay ... Nathan Tinkler's horses have been forced to go without feed. Photo: Nic Walker
IT WAS a stunning admission: the moment Nathan Tinkler's public relations campaign to play down his financial troubles was undone by one of his most trusted lieutenants.
The former mining magnate's private horse racing trainer, John Thompson, revealed his stable of Mr Tinkler's horses had been forced to go without feed because the group was unable to pay suppliers.
''I've gone weeks without vets, farriers, bedding and ran out of feed a number of times,'' Thompson told Sky Sports Radio on Sunday.
As if admitting to being unable to care for Mr Tinkler's horses properly was not enough, Thompson also confirmed racetrack rumours that Mr Tinkler's racing and breeding company, Patinack Farm, had been kicked out of its Hawkesbury private training facility because "the owner of the property just got sick of us being late with our rent".
But Fairfax can reveal it is not only Mr Tinkler's gallopers in training that have gone without feed. Last month his vast Hunter Valley stud farm also had to make do without its regular supplies of feed.
Staff on the 1497 hectare property, home to about 500 horses, including brood mares, yearlings and foals, were forced to let many of the horses feed on grass alone.
Among those that went without feed were brood mares and yearlings which had previously been fed every day. Mares and foals kept in stables and small enclosures were also given reduced rations in an effort to make the farm's supplies last.
"We've had some really difficult times. The staff have been pulling their hair out in frustration some days," one member of the team told Fairfax on the condition of anonymity.
"Everybody here has a commitment to the horses and it's upsetting when you can't give them the basic treatment that they deserve.''
Patinack staff have also told Fairfax the farm ran out of fuel for its quad bikes over the weekend.
The timing of these revelations, and Thompson's comments, could not be more embarrassing for Mr Tinkler, who has four horses running at Flemington on Tuesday.
Only last week the 36-year-old said the host of recent negative stories about him and his companies, including claims from suppliers and contractors that they have not been paid, as well as workers not having their superannuation paid for more than a year, were part of a media crusade against him.
''There has definitely, absolutely, been a spirited media campaign to get me,'' Mr Tinkler said. ''It does piss me off but I just brush it away. I've got broad shoulders.
''But some sections of the media treat me like I was Christopher Skase … sitting in a wheelchair in Majorca.''
And last week was a bruising one in his business dealings. An attempt to challenge the board of Whitehaven Coal, in which his wealth is tied up, ended ignominiously when none of the other main shareholders backed him in voting against the company's remuneration report.
If he had succeeded in that ''first strike'' against the board under the corporations law, a second 25 per cent vote next year would trigger a spill of directors. Mr Tinkler, who opposed all resolutions put to the meeting, fell just short of the required margin against the report needed to register a 'first strike' against the board under corporations law.
His 19.4 per cent stake in Whitehaven was worth $1.1 billion in April but only $568 million based on Monday's closing price of $2.89.
Mr Tinkler is known to have borrowed significantly against the stake, with corporate filings indicating a maximum total liability of up to $638 million largely consolidated with the long-time backers Farallon Capital.
Meanwhile, Mr Tinkler's private company Mulsanne Resources is scheduled to appear in the NSW Supreme Court on Tuesday morning over a $28.4 million share placement in the listed coal junior Blackwood Corporation.
There are hopes the dispute may be settled on the court steps, as were recent disputes between Tinkler Group entities and subsidiaries of the developer Mirvac (about $17 million) and the contractor Sedgman (about $2 million).
A spokesman for Mr Tinkler said Patinack Farm had never run out of feed.
Meanwhile, Fairfax understands Mr Tinkler has informed Thompson of his displeasure over his comments about Patinack's financial struggles.
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