Horse racing ban an overreaction

06 November 2014 13:09 PM

After leaving a function where I had watched the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, I was on route to the office and received a call from a mate, who like me, is a passionate Australian punter. When I picked up the call I knew something was wrong by the tone in his voice and immediately started to think the worse. He proceeded to tell me that the Melbourne Cup favourite, Admire Rakti, had passed away after the race in his stall. We both paused for a second and contemplated the enormity of the incident, in light of the significant contribution that the talented Japanese stayer had made to the Australian racing industry in such a small period.

horse racingLater that evening we learned about Araldo's misfortune. Making his way back to the dismounting yard after race he was spooked after seeing a flag in the crowd, injuring his leg on the side gate which resulted in him leaving veterinarians with no choice but to euthanase him. Later that evening, trainer Michael Maroney was interviewed by a television network and we were all touched by the sadness that had overcome him after the news hit.

These reactions typify the affection that Australian punters have for the great animals that make the sport of thoroughbred racing possible. A reality that is very different to the lens that animal activists, and the other folk that have jumped on their bandwagon, have painted this week after news of the double tragedy struck. The call to ban horse racing has been splashed across every corner of social media and sections of the television and print after the incidents. It never ceases to amaze me how groups within Australian society can take such a knee jerk reaction to incidents. I wonder what would happen in society if we banned industries everytime something went wrong. The London Marathon averages a death every two years. Should we ban that event too?

The VRC took immediate steps this week to implement measures that will reduce the risk of a recurrence of the incident which led to Araldo's death this week by changing the path that horses take when returning to scale and also banning flags on course. Following Admire Rakti's autopsy there will be further lessons to learn which Australian racing bodies will respond to with the best interest of thoroughbreds in mind. This approach to safety and the welfare of thoroughbreds over time has given the industry the lowest incident and mortality rates in the world, which currently approximate 0.06%.

Before the 'naysayers' conclude about the great sport of horse racing they should stop to consider the positives that all the stake holders receive out of the industry. Not only is racing an $8 billion industry providing work to tens of thousdands of Australians, but it also drives a lot of other economic activity. In Melbourne Cup week alone fashion sales are estimated to be $53.1 million and economic activity generation on Melbourne Cup day alone is $1.7 billion over the 24 hours. The flip side to the activists view of horse cruelty is that thoroughbreds are cared for more than most other animals alive anywhere on the globe. Trainer Peter Moody quoted only last week that $35,000 is spent on every thoroughbred on avereage each year to ensure that they are at peak condition . That expenditure includes vet bills, nutirition and other means to ensure they are 100% well throughout the year. A level of care that even the most pampered pet could only dream of.

Like all industries, there are opportunities for improvement in the racing industry. But before we go contemplating rash decisions like dismantling an industry overnight, people should take a step back and look at the complete picture.