Ciaron Maher suspended for six months

Victorian trainer Ciaron Maher has been suspended for six months and fined $75,000 after conceding he should have known that five horses he trained were actually owned by convicted conman Peter Foster.

The trainer did not know about Foster’s involvement but should have asked questions about the ownership bona fides of Group One winner Azkadellia and four other horses, a tribunal heard.

Azkadellia, Little Bubulu, Loveable Rogue, Hart and Mr Simples were raced in the name of Maher’s former racing manager Ben Connolly.

Connolly confessed that Foster was involved in the ownership of the horses, the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board heard on Monday.

Maher pleaded guilty to conduct prejudicial to the image, interests or welfare of racing.

Racing Victoria stewards argued Maher should be disqualified while the trainer’s barrister asked for a suspension that was itself entirely suspended.

Stewards’ barrister Dr Clifford Pannam QC said Maher did not know about Foster’s involvement but should have asked questions.

“Mr Maher’s failure to act facilitated the ongoing involvement of a notorious convicted criminal in the ownership of the horses,” Pannam said.

He said Maher’s conduct occurred between September 2015 and September 2016, when there were a number of triggers following initial media reports of Foster’s possible involvement.

Maher has apologised to stewards, saying he accepts he did not measure up to the responsibilities that come with being a trainer.

“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.

His barrister Peter Morrissey SC said Maher had focused on the horses in his stable to the detriment of other aspects of his business.

“He ardently wishes to remain in the industry,” he said.

Morrissey said Maher did not know about Foster’s involvement but ought to have known.

“He really should have known, that’s conceded,” he said.

Azkadellia won more than $1.5 million in prize money before being banned from racing until the completion of the stewards’ investigation.

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