The Roar
The Roar



The Darren Weir case: Can a leopard really change its spots?

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Roar Rookie
16th December, 2022

In a recent Racenet article titled “Why Darren Weir can be racing’s latest redemption story”, long-time racing commentator Bruce Clark argued that within the realms of animal welfare (abuse) there should be room for forgiveness within racing.

Why? Weir’s record of transgressions reads like a Hemingway novel.

In court on 14 December, Weir and his co-accused pleaded guilty to criminal acts of animal cruelty, acts that had previously been described in charges as “engaging in the torturing, abusing, overworking and terrifying” three racehorses in October 2019, according to the ABC.

Sadly for those who love the horse, Clark’s position is supported by other participants and media willing to entrust Weir with the future care of their horses. It is therefore vital to the credibility of racing and the image of horse welfare that the spurious arguments put forward by Clark and others are confronted and debated, even if a little bit satirically.

The crux of Clark’s defence of Weir is that he’d like the racing public to believe that a leopard can change its spots. Let me put this in the hands of The Roar Grade 6 debating team.

Where such a team would start their debate of Clark’s arguments is anyone’s guess, but I expect they would begin with the ethology of a leopard, which is renowned for its stealth and cunning. Leopards are adaptable and opportunistic hunters, deliberate in intent and patient in execution. They roam far and wide for their kills, do their best work under the cover of darkness or camouflage, prefer to keep out of the reach of potential threats and reveal their true position only when it is to their advantage.

Trainer Darren Weir after seeing a horse of his win

(Pat Scala/Racing Photos)

The grade sixers would assert that the leopard analogy is a befitting frame given the offence and the context of where the behaviour took place. They would highlight that the prey was tethered, had no means of escape, was incapable of protecting itself and was at the mercy of the pride, who were themselves safe from retaliation and harm. That is the very definition of predatory.


I suspect that they’d enjoy dismembering Clark’s arguments such as ‘the good leopard turned (momentarily) bad’ or that ‘leopards have a disdain for other leopards that engage in the torture, abuse and terrorising of animals. The grade sixers would no doubt jump quickly to their feet and in an exasperated tone shout, “Does Clark not see the paradox of a pride all pleading guilty to the torture and abuse of multiple horses?”.

They’d also likely point out that this wasn’t the leopard’s first strike, noting that a whistleblower alerted authorities to this leopard’s practice of breaking various racing rules long before his abuse was caught on camera.

Clark’s claim that the leopard is “not an animal abuser” because they do not attack birds as they rest in trees, but see them as solace from the pressures of endless hunting would surely be met with laughter – before the grade sixers point to the paradox mentioned earlier. No doubt they’d similarly ambush Clark’s conflation of a leopard’s capacity for care with its capacity for acts of predatory cruelty. They may also note that even axe murderers and the feared yakuza have been seen to be both generous and killers.

Clark’s suggestion that a leopard can change its spots and be no future danger to animals would be countered by reference to mountains of evidence that shows leopards are renowned recidivists. They’d also point to evidence that shows despite detection, leopards, like many species, including humans, tend to continue predatory habits using stealth and cunning to limit future discovery or control. Pick up any newspaper or read any news stream if in any doubt.

No doubt the debating team would close their arguments by posing the question: so where does that leave the leopard in the consideration stakes? In essence, should it be trusted? The grade sixers would likely highlight research that shows that persisting with a taste for delinquency past the age of 30 (in human years) is quite strongly prognostic of future crime. They may even point to research by Ulmer & Steffensmeir (2014) that asserts “persistence in crime is likely to entail a lifestyle that is physically demanding and dangerous” and at “older ages when there are lucrative potential financial or psycho-social outcomes”, such as maintaining status – for example, the king of the pride.

They’d likely emphasise the gravity of such trust by asking a rhetorical question that in human terms would be like asking: what fire brigade would trust a convicted arsonist within their ranks?

What park ranger trust a leopard? None, if you were wondering.


Clark would likely rebut that these reflect far more harmful forms of behaviour, but are they?

The grade sixers would likely cite a 2017 US Florida Bar Journal that reported that the FBI tracks animal abuse cases in the same category “as arson, rape, and murder”. They’d also cite that animal abuse registries (modelled on sexual abuse registries) have been set up in many US jurisdictions designed to protect citizens from placing animals “in harm’s way”. It’s hardly considered trivial and gives insight into the stakes associated with any trust given.

The grade sixers would close with a reminder of research that shows (by a substantive margin) that the most likely future for leopards is one where even greater effort will be directed towards avoiding detection and capture.

In an industry that espouses love for the horse, that cannot be a proposition that is put out to society.