Darren Weir’s allegedly ‘jiggered’ horses could not show pain while on treadmill, animal expert says

Lawyers for Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Darren Weir have questioned if there is any proof the trainer’s horses were given an electric shock when allegedly hit with what appeared to be an electronic jigger.

The Ballarat Magistrates’ Court held a virtual committal hearing for Weir and his former stable staff, Jarrod McLean and Tyson Kermond, who each face charges of animal abuse and conspiracy to defraud stewards.

An animal behaviour expert told the court he was asked by Victoria Police to analyse footage of three of Weir’s horses allegedly being ‘jiggered’ with an electronic device while galloping on a treadmill.

Dr Andrew McLean told the court he could not be certain the horses received an electric shock during the video, and that he didn’t see any signs of pain after the alleged shocks.

Darren Weir leaves Racing Victoria’s headquarters after being questioned by officials in 2019.(ABC News)

Racing Victoria’s chairman of stewards, Robert Cram, said he was “highly confident” the horses were struck with an electronic jigger.

The case centres around video evidence that allegedly shows the Weir-trained gallopers being struck by an electronic device, known as a jigger, prior to the 2018 Spring Racing Carnival.

Proof required

Dr McLean analysed footage of the Weir horses allegedly being shocked and hit with lengths of polypipe, which he said was to replicate the sound and action of a jockey’s whip.

Dr McLean told the court repeated actions could be part of a process known as “classical conditioning” where fear responses can be learned and associated with certain actions.

“Fear can be learned in one trial only,” Dr McLean told the court.

“Whereas we once thought all learned responses needed many repetitions, fear is the one that didn’t.”

Dr McLean said there was no evidence of the horses exhibiting pain when struck on the treadmill, but that thoroughbreds would not be able to do so while galloping.

He told the court he could not say whether an electric charge was applied to the horses, only that a device was applied.

Trainer Darren Weir stands with three of his horses
Darren Weir was one of Australia’s most successful trainers.(ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky)

Dr McLean said the device used in the video appeared to be a normal hand-held prodder that was available for use on cattle.

“When horses are moving (on a treadmill), all they can do is keep moving. They can’t go faster because they’d crash.”

Dr McLean said he timed the horses galloping at around 125 beats per minute, which he said was the same speed Black Caviar galloped at when slowing down past the winning post in her victories.

Melbourne Cup questioned

Chief Steward Robert Cram faced the committal hearing and was questioned about his analysis of the footage.

Victoria Police allege that the Weir-trained gallopers Yogi, Red Cardinal and Tosen Basil were hit with a conducted energy device while running on a treadmill and wearing blinkers on October 31.

Mr Cram was asked whether he saw the horses react or suffer any pain.

“I can’t answer that for the horse, but I believe it was being used on them,” Mr Cram said.

“I didn’t see the horses react.”

Trainer Darren Weir with horse Prince of Penzance in 2015.
Darren Weir trained Prince of Penzance, which won the 2015 Melbourne Cup.(ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky)

Mr Cram was questioned about the performances of the Weir horses in the 2018 spring carnival, including Red Cardinal’s second last finish in that year’s Melbourne Cup.

He said he was “highly confident” a jigger was used on the horses.

Case adjourned

The Ballarat Magistrates’ court adjourned early after suggestions the police may have secretly filmed at Weir’s regional Victorian training facilities in early October.

Defence lawyer Jason Galluci questioned a key police investigator over notes which he said appeared to reveal that footage could have been taken as early as October 11, 2018.

Detective Sergeant Matthew Don told the court he wasn’t sure whether he could answer questions relating to police operations.

Victoria Police is understood to be seeking legal advice on the matter before the hearing resumes on Wednesday morning.

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