Darren Weir dominated the last two Warrnambool carnivals to the cheers of "back Weir, drink beer" from the rowdy fans on the 'Bool's famous hill.
But there is a silver lining to the trainer's dramatic downfall and subsequent absence this year – the battlers have a chance again.
The Warrnambool May Racing Carnival features 30 races over three days, including seven jumps races, culminating with the Grand Annual Steeplechase, a festival that will take on a different, but familiar, feel without the former top trainer over the next three days.
"The racing train has just kept rolling on," said top local trainer Symon Wilde of Weir's absence in 2019. "We've seen carnivals before, during and now we are about to have one after Darren, but the carnival can never revolve around any one person."
If you had only turned up for the last two Warrnambool carnivals, you might have thought otherwise, as Weir flooded races with numbers from a stable that had reached unmanageable numbers.
Weir trained 73 winners at the carnival over the last 19 years, but as his overall success and numbers grew, his dominance at the beloved country carnival exploded, with 26 Warrnambool winners in the last two years.
Last year Weir had four winners on the opening day and finished with 12 after training 14 – winning nearly half of the races – in 2018.
In January Weir was arrested after dramatic stables raids, which included his satellite stable at Warrnambool Racecourse, and was subsequently banned for four years for possession of a jigger. He remains under police investigation.
"The positive [about Weir's absence] is that it will throw up a more even spread of people winning races and more stories, which is a good thing," Wilde said. "There might have been a bit of strangulation feel about it over the last couple of years. It felt like he had three or four in every race, so the results weren't surprising because of his sheer numbers."
"Maybe he might have scared a few away in the past as far as trainers coming down from Melbourne. It will be interesting without him."
One of those feel-good stories could be Jane Baker, who trains a small team on course at Warrnambool.
"When one trainer is winning half the races, even for the punters it must be a bit monotonous," she said. "I think it is a better carnival with a wider range of trainers winning races."
Baker's best chance of the carnival is in a benchmark 64 handicap with a home-bred five-year-old gelding named Timor Gold on Wednesday.
"I owned the mare, she cost me $3750 and we sent her to a stallion with a $1100 service fee and my husband and I race him with some friends. He has already won a couple of races for us."
"It isn't necessarily the best horse that wins here at the 'Bool, and it isn't just about the big owners like Godolphin, or Lloyd Williams," Baker said. "This is about the real country people with one or two horses."
Nor is Warrnambool about the marquees, pre-race canapes in the car pack or celebrities at the city tracks in spring.
"The people that go are hardened punters and real racing followers," Wilde said. "If you go to some of the big Melbourne races and half the people are there socially or for the fashions on the field. This is a real purist carnival. People take the week off and it is three days of punting, drinking and racing."
Article courtesy of Nine and The Brisbane Times