By Bren O'Brien
One of Australia's leading owners and most experienced syndicators, Terry Henderson, says the spate of racing scandals which have engulfed Victorian racing over the past five years point to a broader culture which threatens the future prosperity of the industry.
Darren Weir, Australia's leading trainer, was arrested by Victoria Police on Wednesday after stable raids at Ballarat and Warrnambool recovered four electronic devices, or 'jiggers'.
Weir was released without charge but he and his entire operation of over 600 horses remain under investigation by both Victoria Police and the Racing Victoria Integrity department.
The news rocked the racing industry, including Henderson, whose OTI Racing have been one of Weir's major clients over the years.
Henderson said OTI's horses with Weir would remain with the trainer until there was any confirmation on charges.
"Until we hear more from Racing Victoria, yes (they will stay where they are). Clearly we are most concerned and we will be making contingency plans should the news that comes out of the stable be bad. At this stage there are no charges," he told RSN's Racing Pulse.
"Clearly we are most concerned and we will be making contingency plans should the news that comes out of the stable be bad." - Terry Henderson
"You would think that if there is substance to these allegations, there will be some fairly swift action taken on these charges so we know where we stand. That changes the whole ball game."
Henderson said the confirmation that police had seized electronic devices from Weir's property was something which concerned him.
"Those jiggers are a thing of the past in our industry and rightly so. So to hear of them being on the stable premises is very concerning," he said.
Culture needs to be addressed
On a broader level, what concerns Henderson is yet another integrity scandal for the industry, something said pointed to a broader culture which needs to be addressed.
"We've certainly got a big issue," he said. "We’ve had the same discussion every year for the past four years. We've had Moody, Kavanagh, O'Brien, Aquanita and now Weiry. We can’t go on doing this and not finding our industry go south and go south in all respects,"
"We’ve had the same discussion every year for the past four years." - Terry Henderson
"The integrity department is doing its job and doing it well. But we keep treating the symptoms and we don't treat the cure."
One of those cures, according to Henderson, is a proper path of professional development for trainers, similar to the path Racing Victoria has taken with jockeys, as well as the establishment of a Code of Conduct.
"It's been said to me, it’s harder to become a registered stablehand than it is to become a registered trainer. That's a real indictment on our industry because we don't have any real structure in place for people to progress through to become professional trainers," he said.
"We keep treating the symptoms and we don't treat the cure." - Terry Henderson
"As a result we don’t have a trainers code of conduct, which I've been screaming for for ten years. We simply roll on from one of these disasters to the next thinking it won’t happen again."
"We heard the same talks by our industry leaders yesterday as we’ve heard three times in the past three years. Exactly the same, you could have parroted it out."
Henderson said it was time for Racing Victoria to stop papering over the cracks with discussion about increased turnover numbers and admit it had a real problem.
"We have to maintain our public image, but what’s going on isn’t doing that. There is no better way to start to get people on board than to admit that we've have got some real issues in the industry," he said.
Scandals felt across entire industry
He said the knock-on effects of another protracted integrity scandal will be felt across the industry, especially for those trying to encourage new owners to get involved.
"We've got real issues on a number of fronts here." - Terry Henderson
"I really feel for these smaller syndicators and trainers, who are at the sales right at this minute and come back and are trying to sell a horse to someone who has read what they have in the past two days and what they have been reading for the past four or five years." he said.
Henderson also believes the wave of scandals are going to discourage the next generation of aspiring racing professionals, exacerbating a skills and resource shortage which has already been identified as a major threat to the entire thoroughbred industry.
"We've got real issues on a number of fronts here," he said.
Griffiths denies cheating culture
In contrast, Australian Trainers Association president Robbie Griffiths said he didn’t think there was a culture of cheating among racing ranks.
"I think there are 900 trainers in Victoria that are doing the right thing and there are no rules being broken," he told RSN.
"I don’t think it’s widespread and my personal belief is that it’s isolated cases. It just happens to be that we are talking about the biggest trainer."
"I don't think there is a culture out there. I think the culture is good integrity and good horses and may the best horse win on raceday."