GROUP ONE-WINNING jockey Eddie Ahern was yesterday handed an unprecedented 10-year ban by the British Horseracing Authority.
The native of Templemore, Tipperary was given the extraordinary ban by the BHA after being found guilty of conspiring to commit a corrupt or fraudulent practice, while his accomplice, 34-year-old former West Bromwich Albion footballer turned owner Neil Clement, was banned for 15 years.
Ahern (35) was at the centre of an investigation relating to five races between September 2010 and February 2011, in which horses were laid to lose.
The BHA also found Ahern guilty of passing information for reward and, most seriously, of ensuring Judgethemoment was not ridden on his merits in January 2011.
The Jane Chapple-Hyam-trained gelding finished last of seven runners in a two-mile handicap, having been well clear at the halfway stage.
Ahern's explanation for the ride was that he misjudged the pace and had not realised he was so far ahead.
The BHA disciplinary panel said it "could not accept that a jockey of Ahern's experience, especially on the all-weather at Lingfield, could have made an error of such an extent".
The length of the ban all but ensures Ahern's riding career is over, although he intends to appeal the BHA's findings and the severity of the ban.
Ahern last night pleaded his innocence through his solicitor Christopher Stewart-Moore who, in a statement, described the Classic-winning rider as "absolutely devastated".
Moore said: "He did not breach the rules of racing as found by the panel or at all and he will be appealing both the findings as well as the very harsh penalties imposed on him."
Ahern's barrister Jonathan Harvie QC accepted that Ahern had rode "an ill-judged race" on Judgethemoment, who went off at a blistering pace out in front in the race questioned.
Phone records used as evidence showed that the jockey called or texted Clements 265 times in a seven-month period, while Clement called or texted Ahern 163 times in the 12 months up to November 2011.
Adam Brickell of the BHA said: "Today's findings have confirmed that another network of corruption has been successfully prosecuted by the BHA.
"The clear message from this, and other cases heard in the last 18 months, should be that the BHA is better equipped than ever at pinpointing and prosecuting malpractice.
"The penalties imposed as a result of these cases being heard should serve as a deterrent to others."
Ahern's last big victory came at the Curragh when he dead-heated in the Irish St Leger of 2011 aboard the John Gosden-trained Duncan.
Working as a freelance jockey, he had been widely used in recent years by Henry Cecil and John Dunlop as well as winning on the Donald McCain-trained Overturn.
Ahern was champion apprentice in Ireland in 1997.