JOCKEY Eddie Ahern faces a minimum of a five-year ban if the Tipperary native is found guilty of corruption charges and stopping a horse last year.
Ahern and five others, including the former West Brom footballer Neil Clement, are the latest to be charged by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) in its ongoing crackdown on betting-exchange malpractice.
A native of Templemore, Ahern was a member of Henry Cecil's Frankel team – he rode the pacemaker Bullet Train in the Juddmonte International in August – and has a reputation for being a good horseman. In 2010, the former Irish champion apprentice finished 11th on the list of top British jockeys by prize money, riding 68 winners for £971,310.
The 35-year-old is accused of conspiring with Clement and/or other persons to commit a corrupt or fraudulent practice over the laying of five horses that he rode during the period stretching from September 2010 to January 2011.
A recent report regarding Ahern getting a possible riding job in India in the winter pre-empted yesterday's announcement of BHA charges by several weeks, and has proved an embarrassment. An official of the Bangalore Turf Club told a newspaper that they had been advised by British authorities that Ahern was about to be charged with serious breaches of the Rules of Racing.
It is alleged that Ahern intentionally failed to ensure that one of those horses, Judgethemoment, was ridden on its merits in a race at Lingfield on January 21, 2011. This 'non-trier' charge carries the penalty of a lengthy period of disqualification worldwide. The BHA hearing is scheduled to start on April 29 and expected to last five days.
Ahern refused to comment at Lingfield Park yesterday, but said that he would issue a statement when he had studied details of the charges.
Clement, who played more than 300 games for West Brom until retiring in 2010 because of a knee injury, is also charged with having layed a horse he owned, Hindu Kush, and for also being party to the laying of Stoneacre Gareth, a horse trained by Ken Clutterbuck, in a race at Lingfield on March 9, 2011.
There is no suggestion that Stoneacre Gareth's trainer or Adam Kirby, the jockey, were involved in any malpractice over the horse's running – he finished fourth – but James Clutterbuck, the trainer's son, is accused of passing inside information on the horse to Paul Hill, Martin Raymond and Michael Turl, who are all also facing charges.
James Clutterbuck (23) had been expected to take over his father's licence in the near future. He was stunned by the BHA charges.
"I didn't know the layer," he explained."I knew Neil Clement, obviously, and knew Martin Raymond because he's a good fried of mine and it's absolutely ridiculous that he's involved at all. I backed the horse on course at Lingfield and now this has all come about. I knew there was an investigation but I didn't think it would go this far.
"I haven't got any reward whatsoever, I know Martin Raymond hasn't, none of us have, it's just ridiculous. The horse had no right to win at Lingfield and he ran an honest race to finish fourth."
Clement's case renews focus on a troubled margin in the relationship between football and the Turf. It was only in October that Michael Chopra, the Ipswich Town striker with a notorious history of gambling problems, was charged by the BHA in connection with another alleged conspiracy. The case involving Chopra and others is to be heard in January.
A suitable gloom infected proceedings at Newbury, albeit a short, dank afternoon did permit a couple of beams of equine light, notably Swnymor, which looks a useful juvenile for Tim Vaughan, and Poet.
A Group Two winner on the Flat, Poet showed the benefit of schooling sessions under John Francome, identified by Clive Cox as the man who took on the horse after the collapse of a stallion deal. "He's been a major handful," Cox said, referring to Poet rather than Francome. The sponsors duly introduced Poet at 33/1 for the William Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The Levy Board Peterborough Chase, salvaged from Huntingdon, has drawn a field of just five at Exeter today and remains contingent on an inspection.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)