Maher banned over conman's horse ownership

By: Megan Neil Monday 25 September 2017

Victorian trainer Ciaron Maher accepts his rising career is on hold for six months, conceding he should have known convicted conman Peter Foster owned horses in his stable.

A disappointed Maher does not plan to appeal his six-month suspension and $75,000 fine after pleading guilty to conduct prejudicial to racing.

The Caulfield Cup-winning trainer did not know about Foster's involvement but accepts he should have known.

Group One winner Azkadellia, Little Bubulu, Loveable Rogue, Hart and Mr Simples raced in the name of Maher's former racing manager Ben Connolly.

Connolly has confessed to Foster's involvement in their ownership, but has yet to face the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board himself.

The board on Monday heard Maher contacted stewards after a November 2014 media report suggesting Foster may be involved, but failed to make inquiries when questions emerged again in September 2015.

Stewards' barrister Dr Clifford Pannam QC said Maher did not make inquiries about the extraordinary situation when Connolly bought the horses, paying $60,000 for Azkadellia who was a $260,000 filly.

He said Maher did not ask whether Foster, his niece Arabella whose company was listed as the owner or any of the conman's associates were involved in the sale, nor did he question how a racing manager earning $80,000 could afford the five horses.

"It screamed out, in the stewards' submission, for inquiry," Pannam said.

"No inquiry was made."

Pannam said Maher did not press Connolly to pay $75,000 he owed in training fees in May 2016 despite Azkadellia having won substantial prize money.

He said Maher had dinner with Foster, Foster's niece and others the same month after races on the Gold Coast, but still made no inquiries.

Pannam said Connolly eventually confessed to stewards Foster was involved and then owned up to Maher in September 2016, but the trainer initially denied having been told.

Maher's barrister Peter Morrissey SC said the trainer had focused on the horses in his stable to the detriment of other aspects of his business, which was expanding rapidly at the time.

"This has been an ordeal for him," Morrissey said.

"He has paid a significant price."

Maher said he was relieved the protracted matter was over and looked forward to the future.

"I can assure the stewards that I have learned a valuable lesson, something which I will carry with me for the rest of my life," he said.

The 36-year-old said he was sure his team would be able to ensure the smooth running of the operation.

His assistant trainer David Eustace or brother Declan may take over if stewards agree.

The RAD Board decided disqualification was not warranted but rejected a defence request that any suspension be itself suspended.

Chair Judge John Bowman said the high-profile trainer ought to have known there were questions about the horses' ownership, particularly Azkadellia, and that it probably involved the notorious convicted conman or Foster's associates.