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.