Nup to the Melbourne Cup

Anthony Van Dyck was killed after he broke his leg in the Melbourne Cup

In the past, cock fighting and dog fighting were regarded as legitimate sports. Now they are rightly seen as cruel and barbaric. Both are banned in Australia because most people now understand the suffering caused to the animals and are appalled by it.

Sadly, other so called “sports” using animals to entertain humans still exist. Horse racing is one of them and in Australia the Melbourne Cup is the biggest.

In fact, the Melbourne Cup, known as the "race that stops a nation" has become big business. Businesses operating in tourism, accommodation, food services, arts and recreation and the retail trade, including fashion, florists, and grooming, do very well during the lead up to and on Cup Day. Clearly the betting agencies also rake in huge takings.

Chair of the Victorian Racing Club Amanda Elliot said: “They had planned for the Melbourne Cup to be the major event which kick-started the Victorian economy and had made plans for COVID-safe crowds of anywhere between 8000 and 30,000 people for Flemington racecourse, which normally hosts aggregate crowds approaching 400,000 during the spring racing carnival”.

Socialist Alliance councillor for Moreland Council Sue Bolton said: “Socialist Alliance says 'no' to the Melbourne Cup. We oppose horse racing because it is cruel and treats intelligent, sentient animals like commodities. The Melbourne Cup must end."

Animals Australia said: “The yearling sales of thoroughbred colts and fillies draw the 'horsey' crowd — the monied people. Most yearlings sell for tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the gamble starts right there; with the owners and trainers hoping to 'back a winner' and to have the next great champion, or at least recoup their outlay.

“The scale of the industry is huge — around 15,000 thoroughbred foals are bred each year in Australia, and a similar number of standard bred foals are born nationally.”

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: “Horses die on racetracks all the time. During the last racing year,116 of them died on Australian racetracks. Their deaths were traumatic and frightening, a stomach-churning mess of tangled limbs, fractured bones, and broken spines.”

Thousands also die off-track each year, including many slaughtered for not turning their owners a profit. Most of us will remember the harrowing footage on the ABC’s 7.30 which exposed the cruel treatment of retired racehorses.

This year Anthony van Dyck, a five-year-old Irish stallion was killed after fracturing his fetlock during the Melbourne Cup. He was the seventh horse to die from injuries sustained in, or directly after, the Melbourne Cup since 2013.

Jockey Kerrin McEvoy, who finished second, was fined $50,000 and suspended for 13 race meetings because he breached the rule on whipping. He whipped Tiger Moth eight times more than permitted and in total whipped the horse 21 times.

Whipping is seen as a performance enhancer by those in the racing business. But animal rights activists it seen as violence, a very public abuse of an animal that should be banned outright. It inflicts pain and distress on horses. If there is an “allowable” limit to whipping, the temptation to exceed it to win will be too great for many.

Race horses also have their tongues tied. To immobilise the horse’s tongue during the race, it is tied with a piece of nylon or elastic that is wrapped tightly around the horse’s tongue and to the lower jaw.

There are limited data to show that tongue-ties improve racing speeds overall, and there is mounting evidence that they can cause stress and injury. Tongue-ties are banned in most non-racing equestrian sports in Australia, and Germany recently banned them altogether.

In a recent survey, 23% of Australian Standardbred trainers reported problems associated with tongue-ties, including lacerations, bruising and swelling of the tongue, difficulty swallowing, and behaviour indicating stress.

All of this is to make money. And yet the majority of punters will lose money.

These races are designed to make money for the rich and to hoodwink the average punter, those dreaming of the big win. The horses always lose.

Horses are clever and sensitive animals with individual personalities. In an industry where the stakes are often very high, they are treated as mere merchandise.

It is time that horse racing was regarded in the same way as cock fighting and dog fighting. It is cruel and barbaric and must be stopped.

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