Foster mastermind of horse ownership plan

Horse trainer Ciaron Maher
Leading horse trainer Ciaron Maher is in hot water over an ownership scandal. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

Ciaron Maher’s former racing manager now says he thought the trainer knew about an elaborate conspiracy to hide convicted con man Peter Foster’s ownership of five racehorses, a tribunal has heard.

Foster was the mastermind of a sophisticated plan to have Group One-winning mare Azkadellia and four other horses race in Ben Connolly’s name, the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board heard.

Maher was last month suspended for six months and fined $75,000 after conceding he should have known Azkadellia, Little Bubulu, Loveable Rogue, Hart and Mr Simples were actually owned by Foster.

Racing Victoria stewards say Maher did not know about Foster’s involvement.

Connolly told stewards Maher had no knowledge of the arrangements but the former racing manager has now told the RAD board in a statement: “I thought he knew.”

That extraordinary statement should be taken with a grain of salt, stewards’ barrister Dr Clifford Pannam QC said on Monday.

Pannam said it shows Connolly has persisted in not coming forward with the real facts, despite pleading guilty to two charges under racing rules.

Pannam said Connolly played a central role in a conspiracy to fraudulently convince the stewards to lift a ban on the five horses.

“It was a deliberately hatched plan masterminded by Foster, whose very connection with the horses in question led to the ban originally being put in place in January 2015,” he said.

Pannam said the sophisticated arrangement succeeded for almost a year.

He said Azkadellia, in particular, was very successful, leading to a very substantial amount of money being diverted to Foster or his interests.

The RAD Board on Monday heard Connolly was paid $2000 a week to be the trustee of the racehorses and was to receive 10 per cent of any prize money.

But Connolly’s barrister Peter Caillard said his client did not receive any of the prize money, which went to Foster.

Connolly described Foster as charismatic and persuasive, Caillard said.

He said Connolly admitted he misled the stewards about the elaborate scheme.

“He accepts that he lacked candour and was complicit in an elaborate attempt to hide Foster’s ongoing interests,” Caillard said.

Caillard said Connolly has lost his career, his reputation and his social network.

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