The Australian Autumn Racing Carnival is upon us, but drama and disbelief has occurred before a bet has been laid.
Last week, on Wednesday 30th January, Australian Federal Police (AFP) in conjunction with Racing Victoria’s Integrity Unit, undertook an early morning raid on the three training facilities associated with leading horse trainer Darren Weir in Ballarat and Warrnambool and also at a stable in Yangery.
Three men (Weir, assistant trainer Jarrod McLean and stable hand Tyson Kermond) were subsequently arrested for a number of charges including the discovery of electric ‘jiggers’, cocaine, and for the bringing the Australian horse racing industry into disrepute, what they describe as ‘conduct prejudicial to the image of racing’.
Jiggers are like cattle prods and are used to ‘encourage’ uncooperative animals.
This resulted in a ‘show and cause’ meeting with Racing Victoria officials on Monday. Weir did not say anything, leaving it to his legal representation. By declaring a no contest stance, Weir opens himself up to a four year suspension which will be confirmed this Wednesday.
Weir had over 500 horses in work, including some top class Group horses such as recent VRC Derby winner Extra Brut, 1000 Guineas winner Amphitrite, multiple Group 1 winners Humidor and Blackheart Bart, along with the talented Land of Plenty, Nature Strip, Verry Ellegant, Brave Smash and Voodoo Lad.
Many of these horses are being dispersed by their owners to other leading trainers, mostly in Victoria but some are moving north to New South Wales. This will in all likelihood devastate Weir’s business and put many of his staff out of work.
Overall the Weir operation had amassed over $100 million in prize money over the last few years. Weir was also the trainer of 100/1 Melbourne Cup winner Prince of Penzance back in 2015, ridden by the first female jockey to win the race: Michelle Payne.
It was subsequent to that race that Weir’s training success took off and went to another level. In the aftermath, public comments on some prominent Australian websites about the Weir fiasco has been switched off due to pending legal matters which have yet to be resolved.
In the meantime, horses still registered with Weir will be unable to race. Those that officially transferred training arrangements should be OK to commence racing in the two lead off Autumn meetings at Caulfield (Melbourne) and Warwick Farm (Sydney) this Saturday.
Racing Victoria are adamant that they are determined to stamp out all forms of corruption and animal welfare misconduct; either through inappropriate training methods or the taking of drugs and stimulants.
The Weir incident is not the first high profile case that has occurred in the state of Victoria. In recent times there has been the ‘Cobalt’ saga surrounding former top trainer Peter Moody (the trainer of champion sprinting mare Black Caviar), plus only last year we saw the ‘Aquanita’ saga around trainer Robert Smerdon and some other staff who worked at the facility, which involved the inappropriate dosing of some horses. Suffice to say, Moody and Smerdon are no longer involved with training or horse ownership, and did not plead a case during their hearings; instead they just walked away from the sport.
In Weir’s case, he faces a four year ban from the industry, and it may be that we are unlikely to see him return as his reputation and business is now in tatters.
The unfortunate thing about all this is that Darren Weir is a totally likeable bloke, unequivocally Australian, and is (regardless of the impression people now have of him) an excellent trainer of horses.
The other unfortunate downside is that the Animal Welfare Movement has just been given a huge leg-up to take their protest to middle Australia in the wake of this racing industry PR disaster. Down in Australia, with monsoon weather in tropical North Queensland turning rural areas into inland seas, and bushfires flaring up everywhere else across the nation, the country is literally betwixt and between with confusion and uncertainty being the norm.
Coupled with this (as yet) unresolved drama and the looming nightmare of the Federal Elections, Australians will hope everything returns to normal transmission sooner rather than later.
And many folk in Britain are worried about the Brexit strategy! That looks like a walk in the park compared to what’s going on down under.