Currie wins stay extension after Bali phone call

The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal has ruled in favour of Ben Currie continuing to train, with Member Steven Holzberger saying his ongoing participation does not undermine the integrity of the sport.

Currie won a third stay of proceedings in the past 11 months at QCAT, after stewards suspended his licence in February, following the laying of seven charges against the trainer. The most serious of these included allegations of using a jigger, after text messages referring to "harped up" were discovered as part of the ongoing 2018 Weetwood Day investigation.

Thursday's stay hearing gives Currie the right to continue training until an appeal against an Internal Review decision on this matter is heard at QCAT. A directions hearing has been ordered.

Trainer Ben Currie is free to continue training after the QCAT ruling.
Trainer Ben Currie is free to continue training after the QCAT ruling.

Currie gave evidence via phone from Bali, something Holzberger admonished him for, but ultimately determined did not affect his ruling.

Holzberger said there was a "very heavy Balance of Convenience consideration" to Currie if he is ultimately cleared of the charges, given his the number of staff he employs and the likely loss of his business if he was stood down.

"I can't see how granting the stay undermines the integrity of racing, particularly when none of the charges have been proven," Member Holzberger said.

In giving evidence, Currie told QRIC's counsel Scott McLeod "I don't know how a jigger is used."

"I assume you just hit the horse with it and give it a shock," he said.

"I think it's pointless. A horse can only run so fast."

In explaining what he meant by the texts that included references to harp, Currie said there was nothing sinister.

"Change our technique a little and fine tune him to get a result for the owner," he said of its meaning.

Ben Currie gave evidence via phone from Bali.
Ben Currie gave evidence via phone from Bali.

McLeod later noted evidence given by a number of jockeys and trainers in what they understood the term harp or its derivatives to mean.

McLeod submitted Currie's explanation of what he meant by "harped up" was "utter nonsense when you look at the totality of the evidence".

"Mr Currie is the odd man out here. People who have worked in his stables have a very different meaning to harp," McLeod said.

"His evidence is not believable. It's farcical when you have all this evidence from all these other people. It's not believable."

Currie's counsel Jim Murdoch said the explanations offered by the trainers and jockeys weren't universal in linking "harp" to a jigger.

The QC put it to Currie that Tom Button had said harp could mean jiggers or spurs, to which the trainer responded: "It's similar to what I've been saying the whole time. It could mean different things," he said.

Murdoch said an affidavit submitted by Currie's solicitor Michael O'Connor, which included sworn statements from James Orman, Luke Dittman, Luke Tarrant, Tom Button and Brent Evans was "compelling".

"Each and every one denied Currie had ever asked them to use (a jigger) or use it on his behalf," he said.

Ben Currie (right) with Tony Khoury and Bobby El-Issa after winning in the 2018 Weetwood Handicap.
Ben Currie (right) with Tony Khoury and Bobby El-Issa after winning in the 2018 Weetwood Handicap.

"There is an abundance of evidence from jockeys and trackwork riders that it didn't happen.

"There is not a skerrick of material to support an animal cruelty charge."

Ray Murrihy, a steward from 1970 to 2016, including the last 20 years at the helm in New South Wales, was present at QCAT on Thursday, but not called to give sworn evidence.

Reference was made to his affidavit, where he stated he was familiar with the term harp and in his experience it meant to "impart a significant electrical shock".

He further stated in his time he had never heard harp used in the context of describing the training performance of a horse.

Holzberger earlier dealt with his annoyance at Currie giving evidence via phone from another country, noting he did not have an order granting him leave before he went to Bali last Saturday.

"That application caused me some irritation," Holzberger told both parties.

"It was a date Mr Currie asked for. The evidence by Currie on the telephone hasn't assisted him and his approach to proceedings is cavalier.

"I don't think it will affect the final decision (but) the kindest thing to say is that it's Mr Currie's mistake and he should have owned it."