Published as ‘The cruelty of the Melbourne Cup’ by The Guardian, 31/10/13
It’s funny how the bygone Olympic Park dog track elicits such fond recollections for punters who braved the chill air (and worse elements) on a Monday night. A dirty secret few mugs would know are the lifeless underperforming dishlickers that would confront cleaners on a Tuesday morning.
Of course the greyhounds have never enjoyed the resources of the social and cultural phenomenon that is horse racing. Notwithstanding, animal cruelty is animal cruelty, no matter how quiche the outfits, or how fine the bubbly.
Redundant nags are so expensive to keep alive and too large to hide in a mini skip though, and besides, their meat can be exported to Japan and Europe for human consumption. Over two thousand tonnes annually in fact. With the allure of racing riches and over breeding much to blame, 25,000 horses are destroyed per annum. One study at an Australian export abattoir found half the exported meat carried burnt-in brands indicating a racing origin, and a further portion fitted the breed specifications of would-be racers.
Since couldabeen Melbourne Cup winner Dulcify broke down in 1979 and was destroyed on-course in heart breaking circumstances – before being surreptitiously reduced to chickenfeed – little has changed despite society’s heightened sensibilities.
More racegoers’ tears are shed over the spilt beer in the drip tray than horse wastage; however Deposer’s story is instructive, the YouTube montage agonizing. Born in Ireland, he raced at Royal Ascot before being sold to Hong Kong to further his career. His owners gleaned nearly $2m in prize money, but when he outlived his usefulness the champ was sent here. Last year Deposer was disposed. He was six years old. Your very own dog may have consumed bits of him.
The glamorous glue that humans purport to love so dearly is the end story; consider the pain and suffering horses endure before the knackery.
A University of Melbourne study found race exertion sees half of race horses bleed in the windpipe and 90% bleed deeper in the lungs. High-concentrate grain diets (rather than extended grazing) can lead to gastric ulcers. A study of racehorses at Randwick found 89% had stomach ulcers, and many of the horses had deep, bleeding ulcers within eight weeks of training commencement.
They say there’s a lack of ‘stayers’ in Oz racing nowadays…
Then there are the more obvious muscular-skeletal injuries, such as torn ligaments and tendons, dislocated joints and occasional fractured bones. Jumps racing is a whole other world of pain (which at least cops its fair whack of scrutiny).
But like the untouchable oil and the coal mining capers, a global Melbourne Cup audience of 700 million suggests racing authorities hold the whip hand on dissenters. There’s too much at stake in an industry that generates 64,000 full-time jobs and over a billion dollars in state and federal taxes per year. Furthermore, Australian thoroughbred racing claims to spend approximately $30bn leading to a direct economic impact of $41bn. According to the VRC, last year the Spring Carnival alone generated a $366m economic stimulus to Victoria and $752m nationally.
However, the hypocrisy of Australia riding on a horse’s back, not to mention the flagrant greed and excess on show, is as unpalatable as dining on horse meat. And to further illustrate our erratic principles, imagine the outcry if Megan Juddkins (sic) attended The Cup in a fur coat…
Surely there is enough wealth flowing through the thoroughbred industry to do more to address what racing lovers, and haters alike, prefer to file in the waste bin of their minds.
But what odds the ’sport of kings’ should be so noble?
‘Wastage’ (Warning; some scenes should disturb)
As Gai Waterhouse and the drunken hordes celebrated the Melbourne Cup win by Fiorente days after this article was published, five-year-old French mare Verema (having snapped a bone in its leg at the 12oom mark) was being euthanised on the Flemington track. Watching the coverage on television one wouldn’t have even known. The incident caused enormous backlash in all forms of media as Verema’s tragic death shone a spotlight on the issue of cruelty in horseracing.