Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Does the Melbourne Cup need to make drastic changes?

Posted on 25 November 2020 by Myles McDevitt

The Australians call it ‘the race that stops a nation’ , but after another equine fatality, should the Melbourne Cup be stopped?

People all over Australia are beginning to wonder what will be of a sporting event that is so woven into their fabric as a sporting nation.

The 2020 renewal saw the sad death of 2019 Epsom Derby hero Anthony Van Dyck.  The horse  broke down as they made the run in the two mile contest. He was found with a broken leg, and sadly there was no option but to euthanise it.

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It was another sickening day for his trainer Aidan O’Brien who two years previously had lost another one of his stars, TheCliffsofMoher, in the very same contest. 

But why do so many horses perish on the Flemington turf?

It should come as no surprise  that politicians  in the state of Victoria,have called for an inquiry after six equine fatalities in eight years. Now Racing Victoria, who oversee the great event, once again find themselves in the midst of another controversy 

Changes made to the Melbourne Cup

When TheCliffsofMoher passed away, drastic changes  were implemented to help improve welfare standards; all horses are x-rayed when they travel into Australia,  and all four of the horses legs are examined, as well as race officials ensuring that they have passed a veterinary test in their own country.

These procedures are a step in the right direction, however they evidently aren’t enough, as similar incidents keep occurring. it begs the question: are there any other factors at play in the death of these horses?

The weight of the horses would also be a common answer that comes up. Weights for the Melbourne Cup are decided factoring in the age, sex and previous form.  Anthony Van Dyck age was four and had finished in the top two places in his two previous outings hence why he was given the top weight for the race.

This meant that  Anthony Van Dyck weighed  in at 58.5kg when he raced . He was the same weight as Admire Rakti who was another equine fatality in 2014, collapsing in his stall.

However Jamie Steir,  Racing Victoria’s integrity chief, felt that “It’s a very different conversation on whether a horse can win carrying a certain weight as opposed to any potential impact on its welfare.”

The Melbourne cup is a gruelling 2 mile (3200km) race run in the punishingly warm summer months of southern Australia. These harsh conditions have raised concerns for all animals involved in the race.

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It would be highly unlikely that the race would be moved to any other month of the year as it may clash with Australia’s jump season.

Racing’s Victoria part to play

Racing Victoria has come under scrutiny from different corners of the racing establishment in Australia. None more so than Peter V’landys, Racing New South Wales Chief who commented that they should stop caring more about the whip, and put in practices that prevent horses dying in the Melbourne Cup.

This comes after jockey Kerrin Macavoy was given a hefty suspension of 13 days and fined $50,000 for his use of the whip on the Melbourne Cup runner up Tiger Moth. Macavoy was found to have hit the horse 21 times,. The rules  state that jockeys can use the whip five times until the last 100 metres when there is no limit.

Racing Victoria has invested in a CT scanner which can easily detect horse injuries. Not every horse gets scanned. These tests take place at the University of Melbourne. Three horses were not allowed to race in the Melbourne Cup because a potential injury was detected.

V’landys fury on the welfare situation in Victoria is justified. Even with investment of a CT scanner there are still deaths that occur every year.

What else could be done?

Dr Maxime Brian, who inspected horses at this years Melbourne Cup may have offered the correct solution when overseas runners visit.

“I think that every international horse that comes over needs to have more investigative work done on it before it leaves overseas and after it arrives here.

“More work needs to be done and in my opinion tests such as CT scans, before leaving Europe and again before racing here, must be done.”

Brian would also go on to add that every horse that runs in the Melbourne Cup should be CT scanned before they race to ensure that there are no injuries to the large field that takes part

The end of the race?

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Animal rights campaigner have called for an end to the Melbourne Cup. 

But if the biggest day in the Australian racing calendar is halted, what will come of the horses themselves? The costs of keeping them may outweigh potential winnings on smaller stages, putting the future of the  animals at risk, as well as the livelihoods of the trainers.

If the Melbourne Cup is to continue then drastic action must be taken. 

Racing Victoria must carry out rigorous testing of the horses before and after the race  If they do not want this great sporting spectacle  to be consigned to the annuls of history.