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Con man the ‘mastermind’ behind horse ruse

Convicted conman Peter Foster in a police car
Five racehorses owned by convicted con man Peter Foster have been disqualified from Victorian races.

Convicted con man Peter Foster was the mastermind behind an elaborate conspiracy to hide his ongoing ownership of Group One-winning mare Azkadellia and four other horses trained by Ciaron Maher.

When the horses were first banned in 2015 amid questions over their ownership bona fides, Foster’s plan B was to get Maher’s then racing manager Ben Connolly to buy them.

The sophisticated ruse worked for a year but has now led to Maher’s suspension, Connolly’s disqualification and the horses being stripped of their $241,000 in Victorian prize money.

Connolly was paid $2000 a week to claim to be the beneficial owner of the horses, a move that succeeded in getting Racing Victoria stewards to lift their ban, the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board heard on Monday.

RV barrister Dr Clifford Pannam QC said Connolly played a central role in a conspiracy orchestrated by “confidence trickster and notorious criminal” Foster to fraudulently convince the stewards to lift the ban.

“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.

Connolly repeatedly told stewards Maher had no knowledge of the arrangements but told the RAD Board in a Friday statement: “I thought he knew.”

Pannam said that extraordinary statement should be taken with a grain of salt and showed Connolly persisted in misrepresenting the true facts despite pleading guilty to two charges under the racing rules.

Under the scheme, Connolly was to receive 10 per cent of any prize money Azkadellia, Little Bubulu, Loveable Rogue, Hart and Mr Simples earned from racing in his name.

His barrister Peter Caillard said Connolly got none of the prize money, which went to Foster who Connolly described as being charismatic and persuasive.

Caillard asked for an 18-month suspension, saying Connolly admitted he misled the stewards about the elaborate scheme but had lost his career, reputation and social network.

“He accepts that he lacked candour and was complicit in an elaborate attempt to hide Foster’s ongoing interests,” Caillard said.

Caillard said Maher had instructed his racing manager to get the stewards’ ban sorted as the trainer did not want Azkadellia in particular to leave his stables.

But Pannam argued Connolly was motivated by personal greed rather than a desire to serve his master.

Maher was last month suspended for six months and fined $75,000 for conduct prejudicial to racing after conceding he ought to have known the horses were actually owned by Foster.

The RAD Board disqualified Connolly until 2020 over the “scandalous affair” and disqualified the five horses from their Victorian races under his name.

RV chief steward Terry Bailey says the five horses will remain banned from racing unless there is a court order resolving the ownership concerns.

Racing NSW chairman of stewards Marc Van Gestel says the regulator will consider the Victorian decision before determining how they will proceed.

About two-thirds of Azkadellia’s $1.58 million prize money was earned in NSW, including $600,000 plus the trophy for winning last year’s Group One Queen of the Turf Stakes at Randwick.

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