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Thoroughbred racing: Home of the silly argument

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21st September, 2022

It nearly always amuses (and then frustrates) me when I hear many long time racing industry representatives speak on almost any topic. Whilst John Cleese is famous for the ‘silly walk’, racing is becoming increasingly famous as the home of the ‘silly argument’.

Just a short while ago respected former Chief Steward John Schreck was quoted in an article saying: “You can’t argue against safety in horse racing and you can’t argue these days against the welfare of the animal, you just can’t. It’s just a silly argument to try and run.”

But here we are…..still, or again (if you prefer).

It’s irresponsible for Michael Browell, CEO of Moonee Valley Race Club, to suggest a couple of days ago that there needs to be “better balance” in RVL’s Spring Carnival (fitness to race) Veterinary Protocols.

Browell talks of balance. What he actually wants is the ‘fitness to race’ veterinary thresholds to be lowered. Let Browell show some courage and come out from behind the RVL apron to announce to the world what level of equine fatalities and catastrophic injury he is comfortable with. Because that’s the ‘balance’ he talks of.

Come on, ABC, ask him.

If Browell’s view wasn’t a ‘silly argument’ but rather one based on objective criteria, why did I not see Browell arguing against the science embedded in the protocols at the equine limb injury seminar at Cranbourne Turf Club 6-8 weeks ago?

The presenters were the very same people (equine veterinary researchers) who advocated for the current protocols on the basis of equine science and years of practice performing autopsies on International Spring Carnival aspirants. One researcher spoke of the gut-wrenching devastation he observed in those autopsies.


Perhaps Browell should apply for work experience.

This would have been the perfect forum comprising a cross section of fans, industry participants and authorities to test his thinking, although I suspect he would not have found much support. Of course (where Browell aired his views) is a safer option because no opinions are challenged.

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His suggestion that “we do need to trust the trainers though, they live with these horses 24/7, 365 days of the year” is the silliest argument I’ve ever heard. It’s an industry chestnut that should be banished to the ‘too stupid to say’ file.

Does he not realise that this was exactly the practice that saw increasing numbers of catastrophic injuries and deaths among international competitors over the past 10-15 years? Does he not realise that this is why we have the same level of catastrophic injury and equine death rates as we did 20 years ago?

This real world experience is backed by research evidence. There is mountains of it.


Browell’s position highlights most of all, how far he and other decision makers have drifted from the industry’s “bedrock principles” (a decision quality that McKinsey attributes to leaders at top companies). Nowhere do racing’s ‘bedrock principles’ talk of “prestige, quality, excitement, PR coverage and of course the wagering turnover”.

At least it was good to hear the new RVL CEO Andrew Jones say that the “safety of horses is the No.1 priority and the cost of getting it wrong is much higher than screening out a horse or two”. That’s a bedrock principle.

I just hope that Jones tenure encourages a few more participants to consign their silly arguments (industry chestnuts) to the ‘too silly to say’ file. Society today is not as gullible as it once was.