Racing has long been dubbed the sport of kings.
But the industry has an image problem. The book was supposedly closed on one of racing's darkest episodes this week when Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Darren Weir, Yangery trainer Jarrod McLean and stablehand Tyson Kermond pleaded guilty in Warrnambool Magistrates Court to charges of animal cruelty.
The charges related to horses being abused while running on a treadmill at Weir's Warrnambool stables in 2018.
Graphic, shocking footage lasting almost 15 minutes was shown to the court but, despite requests from The Standard and other media outlets, it was not released publicly.
Weir and McLean were both hit with $36,000 fines while Kermond was ordered to pay $10,000 to the RSPCA for his lesser role.
The court was told all three were ashamed of their actions and remorseful.
The problem for racing is their actions won't be forgotten easily, especially from a growing number who don't view the industry as a sport, let alone a sport of kings.
The industry is already under pressure to attract new audiences with a portion of younger people failing to embrace the sport. They see injuries at the Melbourne Cup as cruel, underlined by the Nup to the Cup movement. Attendances at this year's Melbourne spring carnival were down after two COVID-ravaged years. But it is intentional cruelty in this case those not in love with the sport will use to underline their stance.
The court was told Weir wanted to resume his career when a four-year ban expires early next year.
Before the ban, Weir was a cult hero among punters, there wasn't a race the knockabout bloke from Western Victoria couldn't win. "Back Weir, drink beer", was their mantra. But in an era where a harsh spotlight is shone on animal welfare, the sport can't have Weir.
The sport's image has suffered, pardon the pun, a cruel blow. And as reported on Friday, stewards are now opening a new investigation into Weir because they say the four-year ban only related to the possession of a jigger, a device which shocks animals. But they now say the footage played to the court showed the jigger being used. The saga, so it seems, is not over after all.
As much as Racing Victoria wants to clean up the sport and protect its image, the longer this goes on, the industry suffers and so do its people. Until the book is closed on this, the race to move on is stuck at the starting gates and there aren't any winners.
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