Suspended trainer Ciaron Maher’s former racing manager has been disqualified for more than two years over his part in an elaborate conspiracy to hide convicted con man Peter Foster’s ownership of five racehorses.
The Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board also disqualified Group One-winner Azkadellia and the other four horses from their Victorian races, stripping them of the prize money they earned when raced in Ben Connolly’s name.
The RAD Board on Monday disqualified Connolly until December 31, 2019.
Azkadellia, Little Bubulu, Loveable Rogue, Hart and Mr Simples won $241,000 prize money in Victorian races but the mare Azkadellia won more than $1.5 million in total in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.
The RAD Board heard Foster was the mastermind of an elaborate and sophisticated plan to have the horses race in the name of Connolly, who was then Maher’s racing manager.
Racing Victoria stewards’ barrister Dr Clifford Pannam QC 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,” Pannam 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.
Connolly told stewards Maher had no knowledge of the arrangements but the former racing manager has now told the board in a statement: “I thought he knew.”
That extraordinarily statement should be taken with a grain of salt, Pannam said.
Pannam said it showed Connolly had persisted in not coming forward with the real facts, despite pleading guilty to two charges under racing rules.
The RAD Board 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 had lost his career, his reputation and his social network.
Maher was last month suspended for six months and fined $75,000 for conduct prejudicial to racing after conceding he should have known the horses were actually owned by Foster.
RV chief steward Terry Bailey says the five horses are still banned from racing but their ownership is now a legal matter.
He said the stewards would abide by any court order about the horses’ ownership, but said that would have to be sought by the owners.