This is fast becoming an annus horribilis for the British racing community. Already consumed by scandals over steroids and cocaine, it was obliged to confront iniquities that seemed no less distressing for being more familiar. For the career of one of its most felicitous talents, Eddie Ahern, appears to lie in ruins after he became arguably the most prominent rider to be found guilty of corruption since Graham Bradley and was banned from racing for 10 years. His counsel was quick to indicate an intention to appeal.
Had life taken a different twist, Ahern might well have ended up riding Frankel. As it was, Sir Henry Cecil instead promoted another of his regular work riders, Tom Queally, as stable jockey. In terms of pure talent, however, Ahern would have been a thoroughly eligible partner for the great horse.
Such is the heartbreaking measure of the Irishman's downfall, after an independent disciplinary panel upheld a series of grave charges by the British Horseracing Authority. The most serious was that Ahern – in collusion with Neil Clement, a West Bromwich Albion defender forced into retirement by injury in 2010 – had employed tactics calculated to ensure that a mount ran down the field. If a gambling plot with an unscrupulous footballer might seem tawdrily familiar, from previous cases, it is unprecedented for a jockey to be found guilty of setting a wildly extravagant pace in the interest of lay bets against his mount, not on a betting exchange, but on a spread-betting index. (Such wagers offer a sliding scale of profit or loss, according to finishing position.)
Judgethemoment seemed in palpable decline when tried in blinkers at Lingfield on 21 January 2011. He started at 12-1 and again finished last. The trade newspaper, Racing Post, recorded: "Soon spreadeagled field, came back from halfway, headed and weakened rapidly over 4f out."
Ahern conceded that he had given Judgethemoment a "terrible" ride, misjudging the pace and failing to grasp he was so far ahead, but the panel "could not accept that a jockey of [his] experience, especially on the all-weather at Lingfield" could have made such an error. Contrasting Clement's regular wagers with one against Judgethemoment that risked a loss of £41,500, ultimately to win £8,500, the panel concluded that the betting and riding tactics could not be "innocent [or] unconnected".
By no means for the first time, in similar cases, the panel felt able to infer – without tangible evidence – that it was "inconceivable" that Ahern was not riding for reward. This habit continues to cause unease among those who would anticipate an exacting standard of proof, when someone's livelihood is at stake. Regardless, it is a terribly sad business. At 35, Ahern is in his prime. As a rider, he has always had terrific flair. Likeable as he is, however, he has never seemed to have had a sufficiently steely sense of how to make the most of his gifts.
In concluding that he had finally squandered his talent, the panel also found Ahern guilty of conspiring to commit a corrupt or fraudulent practice in relation to the laying of five horses between September 2010 and February 2011. Clement, meanwhile, was additionally found to have laid Hindu Kush, a horse he then owned, and to have used inside information to oppose Stoneacre Gareth at Lingfield in March 2011. That horse was ridden by Adam Kirby, who was never implicated, but James Clutterbuck, his trainer's son and assistant, was found guilty at a separate hearing of passing information. Clutterbuck, banned for two and a half years, will also contest his punishment. Clement was disqualified for 15 years and three months, and fined £3,000. Two punters facing associated charges were both absolved of any malpractice.
Seldom can the sport have craved the sort of succour that might be available in an Investec Derby success for a syndicate including Sir Alex Ferguson. The former Manchester United manager spent one of the first days of his retirement at Lingfield to witness a crucial gallop by Telescope, who missed his intended trial after a setback. Bookmakers were unimpressed, however, and Coral eased him to 8-1 from 7-1 for Saturday week.
Whether Frankie Dettori can process the return of his licence in time for Epsom remains to be seen. The BHA could only reiterate that the "issue sits with the medical committee" of France Galop, and that detail remains confidential between that panel and Dettori.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Squeeze My Brain (8.40 Sandown) Was always going to make a better three-year-old, so encouraging that she lay such solid foundations in qualifying for a rating.
Gravitational (4.40 Haydock) Shaped well on his first start for Chris Wall, emerging from traffic to chase home a flourishing rival.
Where the money's going
Dawn Approach is odds-on with Coral for the Investec Derby, now 5-6 from evens.
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