No questions asked led to Ciaron Maher's six-month ban

Brad Waters - Monday September 25

Ciaron Maher simply did not ask enough questions and that failure led to him receiving a six-month suspension and a $75,000 fine on Monday.

Ciaron Maher was suspended for six months on Monday. Photo: Darryl Sherer

Stewards and Maher's counsel agreed the Caulfield Cup-winning trainer did not know of irregularities surrounding the ownership of Group I-winning mare Azkadellia and four other horses.

Maher pleaded guilty to a breach of AR175A, conceding his inaction constituted conduct prejudicial to the image, or interests or welfare of racing

A piece in Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper was the catalyst for a Racing Victoria stewards' investigation after it alleged notorious conman Peter Foster and his niece were involved in the ownership of the horses before Maher's racing manager Ben Connolly bought the horses in 2015.

The stewards' counsel, Dr Cliff Pannam QC told the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board that Connolly paid $60,000 for Azkadellia, who was a $260,000 yearling and had already won more than that amount on the track.

"How could Connolly afford the purchase prices & training costs on (earnings) $80,000 a year?" Pannam rhetorically asked.

"She had just had an operation and that was the explanation for her cheapness.

"The need for inquiry screamed out of the facts that were before him."

Pannam said that transaction should have prompted Maher to question the deal but the trainer admitted he made no such inquiries.

Pannam said Maher's records indicated Connolly owned him $75,000 in training fees and the trainer did not attempt to recover the debt, which he said was another reason for enquiry.

"Why wouldn't you ask the racing manager to put his hand in his pocket to pay training fees?" Pannam said.

Pannam said Maher had dinner with Foster and his niece on the Gold Coast during the 2015 Queensland winter carnival but again failed to ask any questions on the thoroughbred deal.

"We don't allege he knew (of ownership irregularities) but why didn't he ask (questions of Connolly)?" Pannam told the RAD Board.

"Mr Maher's failure to act facilitated the involvement in racing of a convicted criminal and he continued to associate with Peter Foster.

"Stewards don't expect trainers to be private investigators to detect the honesty of their owners…but the circumstances scream out that ownership (of Azkadellia) should be questioned."

Pannam pressed for a disqualification but Maher's counsel Peter Morrissey QC first read out an apology from the trainer before arguing the rapid expansion of Maher's business was a contributing factor to hiss lack of knowledge of the horses' ownership bona fides.

"You're not dealing with a rogue here," Morrissey told the RAD Board.

"He erred, he confessed and he received a sanction. That's the story here.

"He had difficulties handling a business that was expanding at a rate and he did not have the required administrative support.

"It was culpable of him not to know."

RAD Board chairman Judge John Bowman said Maher had shown "extreme incompetence" with his "lack of attention to stable matters".

"The damage to racing has been sizeable but could have been considerably greater."

Maher has seven days to make alternative arrangements for his team while the RAD Board gave him a month to pay his $75,000 fine.

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