Spring racing sparks up this weekend with Group 1 racing in Sydney and Melbourne, supported by some massive fields packed with horses planning big things later in the carnival.
Can you be an animal activist and still support horse racing? In short, yes.
The Melbourne Cup raises public passions like no other event. In the last few years this passion has been most evident in the anti-horse racing movement, those who say ‘nup to the Cup’. This argument has been getting nastier lately, with many of those against horse racing failing to see any good in the industry, while a lot of those on the pro side are deaf to the legitimate criticism.
There are a lot of issues in the racing industry, from greedy trainers and owners to drugged horses and an inefficient focus on what happens to horses once their careers have finished. The 7:30 report of a couple of weeks ago shone a light on this last issue, and it was harrowing. A horse, no matter if it was an ex-racer or a nag from some back paddock, should never be treated the way those horses were. But for the racing industry as a whole to declare that they had no knowledge that this was happening defies credibility and should be an indictment on the industry itself.
However, the anti-racing advocates took this story and ran too far with it. They declared that everyone in the industry was morally responsible for the acts depicted in the footage, including the lowest apprentices, track riders and strappers from the smallest stables. This is the problem with many of the anti-racing arguments – they take what is a genuine issue and surround it with so much hyperbole that is easily argued away by those in the industry.
A similar thing happened to jockey Michael Walker after the Melbourne Cup. Walker was fined $10,000 and suspended for seven meetings for overuse of the whip on Prince of Arran. While the fine was larger than usual, this would normally be uncontroversial and hardly mentioned. But some in the anti-racing movement decided that this was going to be a moment they seized.
Rather than continuing the debate about the use of the whip in racing, some decided to personally attack Walker. Some even decided to bring his daughter into their argument. This is simply disgusting.
Walker’s use of the whip was also criticised by others, including Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi. I usually support the Greens politically and have supported some of Senator Faruqi’s statements in the past, but her ‘horror’ about the supposed harm that was done to Prince of Arran was overdone and easily disproved respectfully by trainer Charlie Fellowes, who also offered the senator a chance to meet the horse, which wasn’t taken up to the best of my knowledge.
The use of the whip is a genuine debate that needs to be had. Races in which the whip is banned or even more heavily restricted must be trialed. Whips may be a necessity for jockey safety, but their overuse is a bad look for the industry, even if a horse’s welfare isn’t an issue. The jury is still out on the damage a whip may or may not do to a horse, and until that’s settled, the whip will remain controversial.
Horrified to hear Prince Of Arran was whipped to the point that jockey Michael Walker received a seven-meeting ban and $10,000 fine (but still received $55,000 in prize money).
When animals and gambling mix, animals always suffer. https://t.co/jqF9QqHZeo
— Mehreen Faruqi (@MehreenFaruqi) November 5, 2019
The other controversy to come out of the Melbourne Cup was the injury to Rostropovich. The gelding suffered a stress fracture in his pelvis during the race and was pulled up by Dwayne Dunn when he realised there was something wrong. He is expected to make a full recovery, as Kings Will Dream did last year.
But the reaction online was immediate as soon as the public found out there was an injured horse. Most were concerned about the horse’s welfare. The more vocal were pronouncing him dead as soon as they learnt of the injury. Some continue to believe he will be quietly put down and is deliberately being made to suffer to protect the industry.
What does need to be discussed is why so many horses suffer serious injuries after the race. The Victorian Racing Club and Racing Victoria got on the front foot this year with new technology to rule Marmelo out of the race, but this technology was used to scan only foreign horses. It must be extended to all runners next year. Two miles, under high pressure, is a long distance. Stewards must be 110 per cent sure a horse can manage the trip.
Horse racing still has a future, but it does have issues that it must deal with. The criticism directed at the industry must be answered, but it will be impossible to please everyone. There are radicals on both sides who think that either the industry must be completely dismantled or that nothing at all needs to change. These are not the people who need to be listened to. Listen to those who realise that if the sport – and the thousands of jobs it supports – is to survive, it needs carefully thought-out reform based on what’s best for the horses.