A top Flat jockey, Eddie Ahern, and former West Bromwich Albion stalwart Neil Clement were among six men yesterday charged with corruption by the British Horseracing Authority.
In terms of talent, if never quite of fulfilment, Ahern is one of the most prominent names to have been dragged into the regulators' painful attempts to complete a culture change in the way professionals treat the putative privileges of "inside information". Clement, who made over 300 appearances for Albion until forced into retirement by injury nearly three years ago, meanwhile renews focus on a troubled margin in the relationship between football and the Turf. The likes of Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and Harry Redknapp have reiterated and reciprocated the glamour of racing – but it was only in October that Michael Chopra, the Ipswich Town striker with a notorious history of gambling problems, was charged by the BHA in connection with another alleged conspiracy.
It had been clear that trouble was brewing for Ahern, rider of 1,020 winners in Britain since 1998, when the Bangalore Jockey Club declined his application to ride in India this winter – and disclosed that the BHA had drawn attention to a serious disciplinary matter in the offing. Yesterday, details duly emerged, linking Ahern with Clement and four other men, including a professional punter and the son of a Newmarket trainer, in connection with bets on five minor races between September 2010 and February 2011.
Failure to establish his innocence would have the potential to ruin Ahern's career, above all regarding an inquiry into his performance on Judgethemoment at Lingfield on 21 January 2011. Blinkered first time, the horse opened up a clear lead before ultimately finishing tailed off – the fourth time in five starts that Judgethemoment had come last. The BHA will ask whether Ahern is guilty of "intentionally failing to ensure that the horse was run on its merits", an offence that can result in a rider being "warned off" for years.
In other instances Ahern is charged with passing "inside information" for reward. The allegations against Clement include one that he laid a horse in his ownership, while James Clutterbuck – assistant to his father, Ken – is accused of passing inside information concerning a horse ridden by Adam Kirby. (Neither Kirby nor Clutterbuck Sr is implicated.) The BHA drew attention to the fact that its case is based on alleged misuse not only of betting exchanges, but also of fixed odds and spread-betting opportunities. Otherwise there is a depressing familiarity to the alleged scandal. A hearing is scheduled for the end of April. The case involving Chopra and others is to be heard in January.
A suitable gloom infected proceedings at Newbury, albeit a short, dank afternoon did permit a couple of beams of equine light over the soggy track – notably Swnymor, who looks a useful juvenile for Tim Vaughan, and Poet. A Group Two winner on the Flat, Poet is on the cusp of his eighth birthday but showed the benefit of schooling sessions under John Francome, identified by Clive Cox as the man who took on the horse after the collapse of a stallion deal. "He's been a major handful," Cox said, referring to Poet rather than Francome. "At the end of the day that was why he didn't get sold. I'm delighted he's taken so well to it and we'll now have to get a bit more serious." The sponsors duly introduced Poet at 33-1 for the William Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
The Levy Board Peterborough Chase, salvaged from Huntingdon last week, has drawn a field of just five runners at Exeter today and, with heavy rain forecast overnight, remains contingent on an inspection this morning.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Molly Jones (3.0 Lingfield) Back to form and foiled only narrowly when well supported for a similarly modest affair over course and distance last time.
Gorgehous Lliege (1.10 Towcester) Looked a smart prospect winning his bumper and very few miles on the clock in the meantime, now looking dangerously weighted after only fading late in his first handicap.
One to watch
Veloce (Donald McCain) made a promising start over timber when dividing two very useful Flat recruits at Newbury yesterday.