CHAMPION horse trainer Darren Weir looked shattered as the enormity of his position was made clear after the Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board handed down a four-year disqualification, effective immediately.
Weir was found guilty on charges of possessing electronic equipment ("jiggers") that could be used on horses and of conduct prejudicial to the image of racing.
Those charges included three of possessing jiggers and one of engaging in conduct prejudicial to the image, interests or welfare of racing.
Racing Victoria's senior counsel, Jeff Gleeson QC, argued during the hearing that Weir's possession of an electronic apparatus that could be used to stimulate racehorses' performances had tarnished the image of racing in a way that called for a weighty penalty of four years' disqualification.
There was no claim in the charges that Weir is facing that he used the devices, which were found in the master bedroom of his home at his training facility in Ballarat when police and stewards raided the premises last week.
But the fact that the jiggers would be seen as ''cruel'' and were prohibited because their use could facilitate cheating would certainly constitute conduct prejudicial to the interests of racing, which is another of the charges Weir faced when he appeared before the RAD board chaired by Judge John Bowman.
''They diminish the image of racing,'' said Gleeson, as he pointed out that Weir's status as a champion trainer who held sway over one of the biggest racing operations in the world ensured that there would be huge media and public interest in the case.
''The act of possessing these devices, the circumstances in which they were located and the inevitable media firestorm that followed the discovery of these items, the arrest of Mr Weir all contribute to the establishment of the fact that this was conduct prejudicial to the image of racing.
''He's one of the most substantial and significant trainers in Australian thoroughbred history ... he's a champion trainer of one of the biggest stables in the world.
''With reputation and privilege comes responsibility,'' said Gleeson.
''The devices were found in the master bedroom of his house, not in some shed or employee's bag.
''Locating these devices in a bedroom also suggests a desire to conceal these devices from the stewards.
''It might be thought less likely they would access and inspect a bedroom. Thirdly and significantly there is no explanation for possession of the devices.
''It is a significantly compounding factor that the sentence be appropriate ... there is no proffered explanation.
''There is no basis in which you can infer lack of knowledge of the items [or] ... confusion of the rules ... you can only reasonably infer that he was aware of the existence of these devices on the property, you can only reasonably infer he was aware of the existence of the rule, the gravity of the breach ... and the consequences of the image for him and racing if he was caught and convicted.''
Gleeson was arguing before Judge Bowman that the four-year penalty that the stewards were pressing for was appropriate.
He said that Weir's decision to co-operate with stewards and the speed with which he agreed to have the matter expedited were factors that needed to be taken into account.
Weir said nothing while his lawyer, Patrick Wheelahan, said little, initially advising that Weir's position - where he offered no contest to the charges - did not mean that he was in a position of agreement with Gleeson's submission.
''It is the position that he has reached an agreement with the stewards ... that a four-year period of disqualification is an appropriate penalty for the charges to which Mr Weir is pleading no contest,'' Wheelahan said.
The fact that Weir had not contested the charges was, said Judge Bowman, reminiscent of the Aquanita case as he pointed out that ''no contest'' - which was used in that case - was not a plea recognised in this jurisdiction.
''I think we would be more comfortable if we treat it as plea of not guilty,'' said Judge Bowman.
Weir's barrister Wheelahan said of the no contest position: ''I have nothing to say,'' stressing that on all charges ''Mr Weir pleads no contest, and there will be no evidence ... laid on his behalf''.
Weir was aware, the hearing was told, that if the case dragged on it could cost the industry even greater reputational damage and involve massive legal bills.
Gleeson pointed out that while the damage to the sport of racing was ''significant'' and ''damaging'' it was reparable.
He said the four-year disqualification the stewards sought was appropriate.
''It shouldn't be more because it is a charge of possession and conduct prejudical, there is no charge of use. Its simply an offence of possession.
''One can't fall into the trap of making the error in the absence of explanion to say he must have used them. That would be an error.''
Gleeson said it was significant that Weir had been in extensive discussions with the stewards in a short time frame ''to try to resolve the matter".
''Weeks of sustained media commentary and interest would only compound the prejudice to the image and interest of racing.''
This is Weir's second appearance at the Epsom Road headquarters in 48 hours. He and his Warrnambool-based stable foreman Jarrod McLean were locked in negotiations and discussions with stewards for almost 12 hours from Monday afternoon until the early hours of Tuesday morning.
McLean will not appear at the hearing on Wednesday.
– The Age
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