Eddie Ahern, a leading member of Britain’s weighing room for more than a decade, has been banned from racing for 10 years by the British Horseracing Authority for a series of breaches of the anti-corruption rules, including one instance in which he deliberately stopped one of his mounts.
Neil Clement, a racehorse owner and former professional footballer with West Bromwich Albion, has also been banned from the sport for 15 years and three months for using information from Ahern to lay bets against his horses on the Betfair betting exchange.
Ahern was found to have deliberately prevented Judgethemoment, a six-year-old gelding trained by Jane Chapple-Hyam, from running on its merits in a two-mile handicap at Lingfield on 21 January 2011. Ahern set a furious pace on Judgethemoment, “what one would expect in a six- or seven-furlong race” in the eyes of the panel, and then dropped back through the field from halfway.
Clement, whose phone records showed frequent contacts with Ahern, was found to have placed a number of “lay” bets against Judgethemoment, including a spread bet which risked a maximum loss of £41,500 in order to win £8,500. It was one of only 11 bets placed on the account in British racing, and risked a greater loss than the other 10 combined.
Clement was also found to have laid four more horses ridden by Ahern on the basis of inside information received from the jockey, and to have conspired with Michael Turl and James Clutterbuck, son and assistant to the Newmarket trainer Ken Clutterbuck, to lay the yard’s Stoneacre Gareth in a race at Lingfield in March 2011. Turl was disqualified for 24 months and fined £10,000, while Clutterbuck, who intends to appeal against the length of the penalty, was banned for 30 months.
Ahern, who was Ireland’s champion apprentice in 1997 and rode 140 winners in 2006, his best year in the saddle, is the most successful jockey to be warned off by the Authority for deliberately stopping a horse. His big-race record includes Group One wins in the 1999 Moyglare Stud Stakes and 2011 Irish St Leger, in which he rode John Gosden’s Duncan to dead-heat with Jukebox Jury. He rode at least 100 winners four years in a row from 2003, from an average of 1,000 rides per year, though his total for 2013 prior to Wednesday’s ban was just 10 winners from 127 rides.
Ahern has also courted controversy, however, as he was banned for three months in December 2007 after he was found to have deliberately committed a whip offence in order to trigger a suspension at a quiet point in the season.
Neither Ahern nor Clement attended Wednesday’s hearing at the BHA’s offices at High Holborn in London. Martin Raymond and Paul Hill, two professional gamblers who also faced charges in the case, were both cleared of any breaches of the rules.
Jonathan Harvie QC, who represented Ahern at the hearing, said as he left the BHA: “History is littered with imperfect decisions. I’m not for a moment criticising the tribunal, they came to a decision in good faith and so on and so forth. I happen to think that there might have been a different view and there might even have been a better view, but it’s not for me to impugn the judgment of the tribunal.
“[Ahern] rode by his own admission an ill-judged race [on Judgethemoment]. It didn’t work and he finished last and Mr Clement had a very substantial lay bet on the horse. That is where you get into difficulty with these cases, how and on what basis do you draw the inference.”
Ahern’s solicitor Christopher Stewart-Moore said his client intends to appeal against both the BHA disciplinary panel’s findings and the severity of the suspension.
“Eddie Ahern is absolutely devastated. He did not breach the rules of racing as found by the panel and he will be appealing both the findings as well as the very harsh penalties imposed on him.”
The impasse between the British and French racing authorities over when or if Frankie Dettori can return to race-riding after a six-month ban for using cocaine may move closer to a resolution on Thursday, when Stewart-Moore, also Dettori’s solicitor, is expected to meet with officials from France Galop in Paris.
A brief statement from the BHA on Wednesday said that the Authority had been in touch with its counterpart in France, which had “confirmed that the issue sits with their medical committee, and that the specifics of the case have to remain confidential between that committee and Mr Dettori”.