Eddie Ahern will be out of action until 3 April after picking up a three-month ban for what the sport's authorities described yesterday as a "shameful exhibition of riding" in which he hit a horse so hard as to raise weals on its hide, but also for trying to cynically manipulate the system for his own ends. At a disciplinary hearing in London the jockey was found guilty on all counts of an unpleasant list of whip misuse and of bringing the sport into disrepute.
The case centred on Ahern's ride on Marsam at Southwell nine days ago, when the gelding was beaten a neck in a 12-furlong handicap. The local stewards judged him on the day to have hit the hapless four-year-old with excessive frequency, excessive force and in the wrong place and, because of the rider's history he had already been suspended for 33 days during the year for whip and riding offences referred the matter to their London superiors.
But alongside the straightforward and unequivocal breaches of whip rules, came a more unpalatable notion, that Ahern knowing he had a "totting-up" penalty hanging over him had flogged his mount in order to deliberately trigger the inevitable ban to take place during the relatively quiet winter Flat season. The jockey held his hands up to the whip charges yesterday he hit the Mick Quinlan-trained grey 20 times in two furlongs but denied his actions were part of a scheme to clean his slate before the lucrative turf season begins in March.
If there was a cunning plan involved, it has backfired badly on the 30-year-old rider, one of the weighing room's most experienced practitioners. Those at the British Horseracing Authority did not mince words after the verdict: "It is unacceptable that any jockey should commit an offence deliberately to trigger a totting up penalty at a particular time," said public-relations officer Owen Byrne, "and the BHA will continue to monitor carefully the circumstances in which any jockey becomes liable to such a penalty. In this case it was particularly unacceptable that Ahern chose to embark on his disciplinary 'slate cleaning' by maltreatment of Marsam."
The disciplinary panel saw a recording of the Southwell race and photographs of Marsam's injuries. Indeed, such were their severity raised weals on both flanks and quarters that the RSPCA voiced deep concern. "It was a shameful exhibition of riding, and Ahern was right to feel uncomfortable at having to view the videos of his ride," added Byrne.
Ahern whose defence for his conduct on Marsam was his desire to win in a tight finish is serving an 11-day suspension for whip abuse, picked up in a race at Kempton in November.
Even before Marsam's race at Southwell he had been before the local stewards, having admitted using his whip with excessive frequency when winning the first contest that day on Commit To Memory. "Perhaps to his surprise he was given only a caution," said Byrne, "and a caution was not enough to trigger the totting up procedure.
"The notion that he lost his composure [on Marsam] in a tight finish did not wash. He abused Marsam by his grossly excessive use of force for his own disciplinary convenience, and that conduct is highly prejudicial to the proper conduct and good reputation of horseracing."