Caulfield horseman Ciaron Maher’s glamour mare Azkadellia has been banned from racing by Racing Victoria (RV) until further notice due to the possible ownership links to Australian career criminal Peter Foster.
Maher’s racing manager Ben Connolly is officially listed as the sole owner of Shinko King five-year-old Azkadellia, winner of this April’s Group 1 Queen Of The Turf Stakes (1600m) in Sydney.
RV stewards are undertaking an investigation into the ownership claims of Azkadellia and three other Maher-trained horses: Hart, Loveable Rouge and Mr Simples.
The quartet are all banned from racing until the completion of the investigation, putting the potential trip to America for a run in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in doubt for Azkadellia.
“Racing Victoria (RV) Stewards advise that they have opened an investigation into the ownership bona fides of four horses registered in the sole ownership of Ben Connolly, licensed Racing Manager for Ciaron Maher,” a statement by the racing body read.
“The four horses are Azkadellia, Hart, Loveable Rogue and Mr Simples, all of which are trained by Mr Maher.”
Maher has confirmed Connolly has stepped down from his position at the stable while the inquiry runs its course and expressed his disappointment in the situation.
“I am shocked and terribly disappointed to have been informed of the stewards’ investigation involving Ben Connolly and Azkadellia,” Maher told RV.
“As the stewards have reported of their continued investigations, I have spoken with Ben and we both agree it is in the best interest of the stable and to Ben to take a leave of absence until the stewards complete their investigation.
“At present, my main concern is the ban on Azkadellia.
“Likewise every horse in the yard, the stable staff and I have put in a tremendous amount of time and effort into her spring preparation.
“I look forward to this matter being resolved as quickly as possible.”
A winner of over $1.58 million in prize money to date, Azkadellia was last seen running second to Miss Cover Girl in the Group 1 Tattersall’s Tiara (1400m) at Eagle Farm on June 25 during her Brisbane Winter Racing Carnival campaign.
Racing Queensland undertook a similar investigation into the ownership bona fides of the mare during the winter, but Azkadellia was cleared to compete in the Queensland features.
Between January – September of 2015 however the other three horses caught up in the current investigation were placed under a ban for previous concerns regarding the authenticity and accuracy of ownership claims.
Back in April Azkadellia was invited to compete in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Fillies and Mares at Santa Anita Park in California this November.
Before the ban, Maher and connections were weighing up whether to head overseas for that race with Azkadellia or stay at home for a shot at the $500,000 Group 1 Myer Classic (1600m) at Flemington Racecourse on October 29, Victoria Derby Day, during the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
Reports going back to June of this year have links between Gold Coast-based Foster – who has served jail time in Australia, Britain, the USA and Vanuatu – and his “undisclosed financial interest” in Azkadellia.
The Courier-Mail uncovered financial bank records showing Foster’s niece Arabella Foster having made a payment of $280,000 in August of 2014, reportedly for an ownership interest in Azkadellia.
Racing enthusiast Foster is notorious for a host of scams as well as links to the Sports Trading Club.
RV stewards will reject any nomination of Azkadellia and the other three banned horses until the investigation concludes as is their right under Australian Rule of Racing 50.
“Mr Connolly and Mr Maher have been interviewed by Stewards and advised that, with immediate effect in accordance with Australian Rule of Racing 50, the Stewards will reject any entries for the four horses until the investigation is concluded,” the statement made this week continued.
“As the investigation remains on going, RV will not be making any comment beyond this statement.”
Maher still has a powerful contingent of spring stars gearing up for the season’s majors including his back-to-back Crown Oaks winners Jameka (2015) and Set Square (2014).
The two class mares are part of a capacity field of stayers facing off in Saturday’s $150,000 Group 3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) – run this year as the Bendigo Bank East Malvern MRC Foundation Cup – at Caulfield Racecourse.
The quality handicap offers a ballot exemption to the winner into the $3 million Group 1 BMW Caulfield Cup (2400m) back at the track on October 15.
Both Jameka and Set Square are entered for the Caulfield Cup and pay $19 and $26 respectively in futures markets at Ladbrokes.com.au for the mile and a half classic.