Classic-winning jockey Eddie Ahern, whose 10-year ban for passing on inside information and failing to ride a horse on its merits came to an end in May, is exploring all options for the future as he begins riding out for William Haggas.
The 45-year-old rode work on Saturday morning for the first time and was in situ at Somerville Lodge on Monday morning, although a serious leg injury could put paid to any thoughts of a return to race-riding for the time being.
“Ten years is a long time and it has felt like forever,” said Ahern. “I think I’m a long way from a comeback, because I had such a bad leg injury in May last year.”
A badly-broken leg twice rejected a nail incision, causing severe infections, and Ahern required a lengthy stay in hospital, diminishing hope that he could return to race-riding.
“I was in a lot of pain. I’m not in any pain now and the bone has completely healed. I have a bit of a limp and I’m still not running yet.
“I put myself on a strict diet when I was in hospital, but I weighed myself the other day and I was 10 stone.
“The leg is good and strong, but I can’t go out and put the sweatsuit on and run three miles, all the time I’m limping.
“However, I am blessed with a physique which adapts easily to the weight demands of riding on the Flat so, with the right diet and routine, making the weight would be no problem to me.”
A former Irish champion apprentice, Ahern was found guilty by a British Horseracing Authority disciplinary panel of conspiring to commit a corrupt or fraudulent practice in relation to the laying of five horses between September 2010 and February 2011.
He was also found to have intentionally failed to ensure Judgethemoment was ridden on its merits at Lingfield in January 2011, and of passing information for reward.
Ahern, who won the Irish St Leger in 2011 for John Gosden when Duncan dead-heated with Jukebox Jury, was subsequently banned for 10 years in 2013.
“Obviously, I felt the punishment was harsh, but I have served my ban and I need to move on,” he said.
“I am allowed to ride out for trainers, and while I still haven’t fully recovered from a broken leg, I wanted to get my leg stronger, get myself fit and get back into riding racehorses.
“I have been riding showjumpers, it has really helped get me back riding and strong again, but I wanted to get back on the racehorse again. It is where my passion lies and I have really missed it. It is really nice to get on a nice three-year-old or four-year-old.”
Ahern and his partner, top showjumper Holly Smith, rent a yard in Leicestershire, where she is rebuilding her string. Ahern plans to break-in yearlings, pre-train and prepare breeze-up horses for trainers over the winter.
Though keen to build the business further, Ahern is not ruling out a return to the saddle, but admits it will be tough to do.
He said: “I am really thankful for the opportunity to ride out for Mr Haggas.
“I rode a lot of winners, including one at Royal Ascot, for him. I want to see if the bug still there, whether the fire is still in my stomach.
“I haven’t ridden racehorses in a while and when you are a work rider, it is all about educating the horses and getting the pace right, and feeding back as much information to the trainer as possible. I wanted to get back doing all that, especially with such high-class horses.
“William and (wife) Maureen know how much I admire them as people and as trainers.
“I love them, the lads in the yard, the yard itself and love the routine and the set-up. I missed seeing everyone’s faces. It is nice to see the riding-out boots and breeches.
“I know all the tracks and the gallops, I know how Mr Haggas wants his horses ridden and know how they should be ridden. I just want to get back doing all that again.
“I don’t know if I will make a comeback. What I do know is I want to get fit and get strong, and go down to ride work.
“I know the weight will fall off. I’m using all the old muscles I used to use before. My legs need to get stronger and my body to get stronger, but I’m 45. I’m under no illusions – I have a ‘Dad-bod’ at the moment!
“I feel I’m a lot older, I have other ideas in my head, breaking, pre-training, breeze-ups. Race-riding is a young man’s game. With one meeting a day and no saunas, it just makes life hard for jockeys, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.
“I’m happy to work hard for Mr Haggas and do as much as I can – and learn from him because, who knows, someday I might want to be a trainer.
“I’m just delighted to be given the opportunity to ride out and we’ll take things one step at a time.”