The suspension of Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Darren Weir has sent a seismic shockwave through the horse-racing industry.
It also has the potential to be the death knell for many of racing’s unseen operations who relied on the champion trainer for business.
Weir has been banned for four years for possessing electric-shock devices, completing a stunning and swift fall from grace for one of Australian racing’s most celebrated figures.
A Melbourne Cup-winning trainer, Weir didn’t contest Racing Victoria’s charges when he appeared before a hastily convened Racing Appeals and Disciplinary Board panel on Wednesday.
— Sarah Peatling (@Peatling_SP) November 3, 2015
On Thursday, training partners Ciaron Maher and David Eustace announced they had bought Weir’s former Forest Lodge complex at Ballarat. The partnership, which now has five training bases, is also understood to be in talks about the future of the fallen champion’s Warrnambool base.
Nonetheless, Weir’s suspension has left many facing an uncertain future.
Among them is Pat Cannon. He has his own training licence but had been building a business around pre-training and rehabilitating horses from Weir’s stable.
The Ballarat horseman admitted he was facing a challenge to deal with the loss of business, though he wasn’t totally surprised by the trouble that led to Weir’s downfall.
“There have been whispers around the traps for a while,” Cannon said. “But I was shocked at the extent and just shocked at the fact that the bloke is one of the best horsemen I’ve ever seen.
“He’s an animal lover. He loves his horses, so I’m shocked at the extent of it. It just goes to show what winning means to some people.”
Cannon started his business at the back end of 2018. Weir would send 12-14 horses at a time for rehabilitation. The work from the Weir stable gave Cannon’s operation a bedrock upon which to build.
“It was a real help financially because it’s pretty hard when you’re kicking off. Now all of a sudden this happens,” he said.
Weir was a reliable payer and that cash flow kept things ticking at Cannon’s operation.
“We relied on that money every month to pay wages and keep the staff on.”
Cannon employs one full-time assistant and two part-timers. Their employment is now in jeopardy.
“We’ll probably have to lose one part-timer if we don’t pick up any horses immediately and the other part-time person soon after that,” he said.
“My full-time employee is going through a battle with cancer so this uncertainty doesn’t help her situation.
“It’s come at a bad time for us.”
In handing down the ban, board chairman Judge John Bowman described the events of the past week as a sad chapter in Australian racing.
He said racing had moved on a long way with its animal welfare issues.
“Until a week ago, you [Weir] could be described as a leviathan trainer with hundreds of horses, owners that number in the thousands, with a staff of 150,” Judge Bowman said.
“You rose from the depths of the Mallee (region) to be Australia’s leading trainer.
“All of this makes your fall even sadder.”
Cannon is certain that his experience will be mirrored across a range of services that the Weir stable relied upon to keep its program, which managed more than 600 horses, ticking over.
“Definitely. There are other pre-trainers who will be impacted. I think at one stage he (Weir) had up to 17 pre-trainers working for him,” Cannon said.
Cannon feels like he’s starting from scratch.
“I’ve just got to get the feelers out there and try and drum up some business. I think I’ll have to try and cut my prices down to get competitive amongst them.
“That’s hard when you’re trying to do it on a shoestring.”