Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington has come under intense scrutiny for causing six horse deaths in as many years. This was further exacerbated by recent investigations exposing the systemic slaughter of healthy thoroughbreds by the thousands each year.
In response, stewards and other racing officials were pulling out all stops to try to ensure no one died at Flemington this Cup Day. Pre-race CT scanning was vigorously stepped up and two horses were forced to withdraw from the big race.
According to The Age, officials also sent out text messages to Melbourne Cup jockeys before the race warning of heavy penalties for ‘excessive’ whip use.
“Given the magnitude of this race we know the spotlight is on us.” Racing Victoria chief steward Robert Cram said.
Meanwhile across Australia, where the eyes of the world were NOT watching, it was business as usual.
Including Flemington, there were 40 race meets held across the country on Cup Day. Between them they tallied up 51 breaches to the whip rules, mostly over-whipping (as though whipping a limited number of times isn’t bad enough). Nine bleeds were reported (all likely caused from bleeding in the lungs)*, and one horse was killed (that we know of).
Whip Rule Breaches
Of the 51 breaches to whip rules, just 7 fines were issued. A very public 6 day suspension and a $10,000 fine went to Melbourne Cup runner up jockey Michael Walker – out of his $50,000 winnings for abusing a horse. The remaining 6 fines totalled just $1050 between them. 9th place Melbourne Cup runner Brett Prebble beat his horse Steel Prince with a whip 10 times before the 100m (just two times less than Walker) and received a 5 day suspension and no fine at all. It seems punishments for breaching whip rules, in the Melbourne Cup at least, come down to how much your whipping may have impacted the result and the public’s perception rather than how much it impacted the horse.
The total number of jockeys issued with suspensions from racing for breaching whip rules were 8, the shortest given just 1 day, the longest 11 days. Of the 8 suspensions handed out 6 of them were in Victoria.
27 of the 51 breaches to how many times and in what fashion you can beat up on a horse were carried out in NSW and virtually nothing was done about it.
There were also well over 50 incidents at the gates in this one day; what stewards refer to as “difficult to load”, “unable to load”, “fractious in barriers”, “became cast in barriers”, “broke through the gates”, “dislodged rider”, “leg stuck in gates”, “reared at the gates”. Horses expressions of defiance happen all day at any given racetrack. Most don’t get a mention.
Just some examples. Words taken directly from stewards reports:
Worrigee Star – The mare which escaped from its attendant behind the barriers and galloped a considerable distance before jumping a perimeter fence was declared a late scratching by order of the Stewards at 12.35pm.
Highton – Trainer G Hickman was advised that a warning would be recorded against the gelding which proved reluctant to proceed to the barriers and caused a delay to the start.
Daunting Warrior – The filly was declared a late scratching by order of the Stewards at 2:28pm after it shied en route to the barriers and broke through the running rail, dislodging rider J. Grob in the process.
Daredevil – After being loaded into the barriers, became fractious, reared and became cast over its nearside barrier partition.
Lilly Pilly – After being loaded into the barriers, the filly became fractious, reared and sat down behind.
Red Hot – The filly, which was in the stall adjoining Lilly Pilly which had become fractious and was removed from its barrier, then reared and struck its head.
But of course, most tragic of all is whilst we all waited anxiously to learn the fate of Rostropovich whose pelvis was fractured by being forced to race in the Melbourne Cup, in the small country town of Richmond in the North West of Queensland, 5-year-old Point Forward sustained a serious injury and was killed and no one even noticed.
Not even Racing Australia it seems, where at the time of writing (one week after his death) the gelding is still listed as Active.
The Richmond Racecourse Facebook page has official and visitor posts praising what a great Cup Day they had. No mention of Point Forward anywhere. No acknowledgement of his life or his death. To the industry he is just another dead horse; one of those killed every three days. Must be tough work for this $9 billion industry to keep up.
Plenty more horses were injured on Melbourne Cup Day, many of whom we will never hear of again.
RIP Point Forward. We are sorry.
It was impossible to find a still image anywhere online of Point Forward. We welcome anyone who has one to please send it through.
*Studies show 90% of horses bleed from the lungs whilst racing. This mostly goes undetected. More information here.
To learn more about the frequency and causes of deaths on track read our Deathwatch reports here.
Liz Sparkes says
Tragic, Disgusting & Criminal.
Where the hell is RSPCA on this & What are they doing about this animal abuse!
Rose Hess says
Message for Ms Tanya Parry owner/trainer of this poor beautiful horse Point Forward. At least have the decency to unlist this majestic little hero as unactive. Why you ask? because he is DEAD!!!! unless you’ve trained the poor baby to become a ghost.
Lee Kingston says
Rostropopich the beautiful gelding who ran in 2019 Melbourne Cup…….is he alive or not? Yes or no please?
Jude Lennox says
This is unacceptable and unforgivable on every level ! Horse racing is not entertainment, it is animal abuse. Ok , you have to gamble……go to the bloody casino or have a tatslotto ticket…..leave sentient beings out of it . The arrogance of the human animal in thinking that EVERYTHING on the planet is here for exploitation in any of its forms is abhorrent and immoral.
Lee Kingston says
Worrigee Star……you sound like a warrior angel to me…….lead the way out of here darling
Its a disgusting industry purely based on greed, greed and greed.
I will never support it. I will support the protests against horse racing and the cruelty associated with it. RIP to every beautiful horse who has been killed by an owner, trainer, connection s, vets and the general public who attend horse racing! You are a disgrace.
Holly Hartley says
20 years ago I was made aware of the horse racing industrys disposal of horses. Ever since I have not supported the races or any horse that is used for competition. I have seen first hand the unwanted horses that are left for the doggers taking. Its vial the people who use animals for monetary gain and then throw them in the rubbish once finished with.
That poor horse with a broken pelvis being made to race. Its better off dead then having the life it was rasied to preform.
sue hemingway says
I have retrained my fair share of racehorses over the years. It would be unusual to find one without some form of mental phobia or not carrying injuries. A quick fix will most likely get him sold, but unless the new owner is competent and I mean really competent it is possible it will still end in a trip to the meat works after the buyer is injured and deems the horse dangerous. Maybe not the first buyer, the second or third. There is a lot of ignorance out there and some ‘trainers’ are worse than the horses had on the track. Then there are the ‘old’ injuries which may cause dangerous behaviour, kissing spine can cause the horse to be extremely dangerous through nothing but pain. At the front those ridiculous saddles put a lot of pressure on one place.
These horses have been trained to do one thing, jump out of a barrier and run with an immensely strong, experienced little person standing above them, that holds hard on their mouth. Often their mouths are extremely hard or dead. Some of the allowable bits in use are horrendous. Check out a ‘Norton Citation Bit’, designed to open up and rip the roof of the horse’s mouth, couple that with a tongue tie and it’s a wonder they can eat after a race. You can imagine if a horse has had such treatment on the track, it’s not his fault that he doesn’t understand a gentle pull on the reins. Other than when broken in, they rarely experience riders legs hanging down their sides in stirrups from a big saddle, they have to be taught to go forward from the leg. They have been desensitised to the whip, some just balk, hold their bellies hard against the rider’s leg, refuse to go forward and few can wield a whip as well as a jockey, so the trainer has to use finesse and intelligence to get them to understand this new set of instructions. Another problem is they often only travel one direction making them difficult to correctly muscle and be able to travel equally balanced in both directions. So with all that in mind, some well meaning ‘rescue’ person could have a racehorse bolt off, rear, buck on them, not from malice, but from ignorance in both parties. And another one bites the dust.
I have one here, a 6 year old who has raced in every State of Australia, bred in NZ, had just about every piece of gear used on him. Been through seven trainers. It’s been a privilege getting to know him. He arrived with so many problems, I wasn’t sure I would be able to get a tune out of him. The one thing he hadn’t had much of was kindness. He is addicted to carrots. He has gone from a rearing, arm ripping, ears flat back monster, shut down, refusing to back or canter, to being almost a perfect gentlemen. That has taken exactly 12 months and he still isn’t established.
I’m 62, I have the time. He has a home here for life. He deserves a nice retirement. He isn’t particularly sound, neither am I.
However, my point being, I have worked with him at least 4 days a week, sometimes 7. These horses are usually damaged, they need consistency, they need discipline, they need routine, they need your time, lots of it.
Can you see the problem? 13,000 race foals born in Australia every year, hot housed, hormone fed, forced to develop for the yearling sales, broken in at 18 mths, racing at 2yo, their skeletons unformed, wrecked soon after. Their lives have been in stables, with many other horses and people. They usually are given a variety of drugs and treatments for a variety of crazy reasons. They are handled by people who know how to handle racehorses, usually in an anti rearing bit.
None of this helps them become an easy to handle or ride horse.
To find folk experienced enough, who are patient to retrain, isn’t easy. Sure, they will take the cream of the crop and turn them into eventers, show jumpers, show hacks etc, but what of the banged up hopefuls deserving a home?
I’ve made so many mistakes with them and certainly had some dreadful accidents. Years a go, I bought a beautiful French galloper off the track, put him in a paddock with a lovely dam. By day 3 I was wondering why he had lost so much weight. He didn’t know how to drink from the ground, always had a horse waterer. Poor thing was so dehydrated.
The problem is real, but banning racing isn’t going to help the thoroughbreds.
Limiting the amount of foals born each year, making it compulsory they are trained in a manner of a general riding horse to allow easier transition to a second career.
Banning 2 year old racing, banning tongue ties, banning blinding blinkers, making it a life suspension for use of jiggers, for pushing an animal past exhaustion on a walker, treadmill, swim pool, for using shock wave therapy unless administered by a vet. Ban Lasix (potent diuretic) which is over used, causing dehydration, muscle cramps, it’s used to supposedly prevent nose bleeds (lung bleeds), ban Colbalt, which over use damages the thyroid, cardiovascular system, nerve problems and blood thickening. The list goes on…
And I guess, keep the pressure on, which you are doing. But in closing, that isn’t whip marks on the Cup winner and continuing to say so discounts your creditability. It’s simply muscle definition. He has similar on his neck.
Angela Morley says
Brilliant post Sue! Thank you for taking the time to note all these issues relating to racehorses lives. I am also worried about the rehoming programs as like yourself I understand that a very competent and experienced home is necessary, and is actually a rare occurance. Too many finish racing totally unsuitable physically and mentally to be retrained. Heartbreaking!!