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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Rising star trainer Maher hit with six-month ban over link to conman Foster

Ciaron Maher (second left) in happier times with Ruby Walsh in 2015
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Caulfield Cup-winning trainer Ciaron Maher has been suspended for six months and fined $75,000 after a "serious lapse of judgement" that led to notorious conman Peter Foster owning five horses in his stable.

Foster, 54, twice gained infamy in Britain. During the 1980s he persuaded page-three girl Samantha Fox and the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, to promote a weight loss product.

He also hit the headlines in 2002 over his alleged involvement in the purchase of two flats in Bristol by Cherie Blair, the wife of Tony Blair.

Conman Peter Foster
Maher's rise to prominence has been meteoric in recent seasons, but the Caulfield-based trainer admitted he ought to have known more about the ownership situation of the horses in question, including Group 1 winner Azkadellia, as he pleaded guilty to a charge of conduct prejudicial to racing's image.

The 36-year-old's ban will begin on October 2, as Melbourne's spring carnival kicks into gear, and will leave him unable to train horses until next April. He now has a week to make arrangements for the several hundred horses in his stables.

A visibly shaken Maher, who it was revealed during the hearing has suffered from anxiety and depression since being charged, told reporters afterwards he was glad that the matter had come to an end.

In a letter to owners, Maher, who teamed up with Ruby Walsh to win Australia's Grand National Steeplechase with Bashboy in 2015, added: "While I am disappointed to find myself in this situation, I am relieved a decision has been finally made.

"The past 12 months have certainly taken a toll on my health. However, I have an incredibly supportive team at Ciaron Maher Racing who will be able to ensure the smooth running of the operation in the interim."

'It screamed out for inquiry'

Monday's hearing was told that Maher had contacted stewards after a November 2014 newspaper article first suggested the possible involvement of Foster in the horses.

The five horses were raced in the name of Maher's former racing manager Ben Connolly, who subsequently confessed to Foster's involvement.

The board's Dr Clifford Pannam QC on Monday said Maher had made no attempt to discover how Connolly, on an A$80,000 salary, could afford to buy the horses or whether Foster or any of his associates had been involved in their sale.

"It screamed out, in the stewards' submission, for inquiry," Pannam said. "No inquiry was made."

Chair of the board Judge John Bowman rejected a call by Racing Victoria stewards to disqualify Maher but told the trainer that any punishment less than a suspension would have been insufficient.

"Your serious lapse of judgement could be seen in enabling the perpetration of the fraud," Bowman said.

Maher was given 30 days to pay his fine.

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While I am disappointed to find myself in this situation, I am relieved a decision has been finally made

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