Corruption verdict sees Eddie Ahern's future hanging in balance
The rollercoaster career of former Irish champion apprentice Eddie Ahern appears to be in tatters after the Templemore-born rider was convicted of corruption by the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) and banned for 10 years.
Under the rules of racing, Ahern (35) was charged with conspiring to commit a corrupt or fraudulent practice in relation to the laying of five horses between September 2010 and February 2011, and of communicating information for reward. He was found guilty at a disciplinary sitting in London, while he was also convicted of failing to ensure that Judgethemoment was ridden on its merits in January 2011.
Neil Clement – a former West Brom footballer whom Ahern described during proceedings as a "close" friend – was convicted of fraudulently laying the five Ahern rides in question and disqualified from racing for 15 years.
Clement, a regular in the Premier League before his retirement in 2010, joins fellow footballers Michael Chopra and James Coppinger in being disqualified from the sport by the BHA for fraudulent betting activity.
However, the verdict will be of most consequence to Ahern (right). Champion apprentice here in 1997, the unquestionably talented rider won his first Group One on Michael Grassick's Preseli in the Moyglare Stud Stakes two years later, before relocating to Britain in 2002. Despite riding over 1,000 winners there, Ahern earned a reputation as something of a loose cannon, his career punctuated with unsavoury incidents.
In 2002, he received a 14-day ban for throwing his whip at a photographer, and got a four-day holiday for kicking a filly in the belly while standing on the ground in 2003. In 2004, Turf Club officials handed him a 21-day sentence for striking Declan McDonogh with his helmet, and he was the first jockey to be censured for bringing racing into disrepute in 2007 when he acquired a three-month ban for flouting the whip rules in a bid to get a totting-up ban out of the way in the quiet season.
All the while, he continued to earn the support of leading trainers such as Henry Cecil, John and Ed Dunlop and John Gosden.
At the Curragh in 2011, Gosden supplied his second Group One winner when Duncan dead-heated with Jukebox Jury in the Irish St Leger.
That could prove to be the last big-race triumph for the troubled rider, as the task of rebuilding his reputation after such a damning verdict would surely prove insurmountable.
In the controversial race in which Ahern was judged to have stopped Judgethemoment, the BHA found that he "deliberately set a pace that was designed to hurt Judgethemoment's chances".
In first-time blinkers, Judgethemoment, which had also been hopelessly beaten in its 10 previous runs, tired badly at the business end.
Jonathan Harvie, representing Ahern, indicated that his client would appeal the guilty verdicts. "I think he was hard done by," he said of Ahern. "The tribunal took one view; I took a slightly different view."
James Clutterbuck, son of trainer Ken, entered a guilty plea on a factual basis for passing on inside information for reward. The BHA accepted his plea, but Clutterbuck is to appeal the severity of his two-and-a-half-year ban.