Aussie Trainers Accused of Torturing Horses in Melbourne Cup Betting Conspiracy

Posted on: September 10, 2020, 09:59h. 

Last updated on: September 10, 2020, 11:33h.

Australian thoroughbred trainer Darren Weir told Ballarat Magistrates Court near Melbourne of his love of horses Wednesday, adding that he did not “train them for the punt [betting].”

Darren Weir
Darren Weir (left) and Jarrod Mclean are accused of using banned “jiggers” on horses in a bid to make them run faster. (Image: Getty)

Weir is accused of conspiracy to defraud and animal cruelty after police filmed him using illegal battery-powered shock devices, known as “jiggers,” on horses in the days leading up to the 2018 Melbourne Cup. In the US jiggers are also known as “batteries,” or “buzzers.”

It’s alleged the 2015 Melbourne Cup winner employed the banned “go-faster” devices on Yogi, Red Cardinal, and Tosen Basil while they ran on treadmills.

How Do Jiggers Work on Horses?

Jiggers are used as a form of Pavlovian conditioning, or associative learning, to ensure that a horse anticipates a shock when some kind of trigger, such as the butt of a jockey’s whip, is applied during a real race.

“History tells us that they are used sometimes three days before a race by running the batteries up and down the horse’s neck followed by a loud roar from the jockey. And that practice is repeated in an actual race, this time with the butt of the whip substituting for the battery,” Dr. Glenn Robertson-Smith, one of Australia’s most respected veterinary surgeons, told The Guardian last year.

Horses are flight and fright animals that can run on fear and fear alone,” he added. “If horses are terrified, they can run sometimes until they drop.”

Losing Bets

In court was assistant trainer Jarrod McLean, who was working for Weir at the time. He is accused of beating the animals with plastic hosing and of placing “corrupt bets” on the horses he tortured.

But, as reported by The Newcastle Herald, his lawyer, Jason Gullaci, argued Wednesday that the betting conspiracy charges didn’t add up. Gullaci noted that four bets his client was charged with making, including one on Melbourne Cup runner Red Cardinal, were losing bets.

Defending Weir, Ian Hill QC noted that despite police secretly filming two stables owned by his client from October 25 to November 13, 2018, there was no other “untoward” footage of animals being hurt.

“Apart from one occasion, when I saw them being tortured,” shot back Detective Senior Constable Cliff Pickett.

Victoria Police raided Weir’s properties in January 2019, seizing four jiggers, an incident described by racing officials as “bruising for the reputation of the industry.”

“To have these battery-operated pieces of equipment is absolutely unforgivable, and those who use them should face life bans from racing and criminal animal cruelty charges with possible jail time,” said Robertson-Smith.