Melbourne Cup 2021: is a new welfare campaign just good communication or will it protect horses? | Animal wellbeing


Melbourne Cup organizers have struggled to clean up its image after the high-profile deaths of seven horses over the past six years.

The changes – aimed at ensuring horses are fit to race and have no undetected underlying conditions – were rolled out alongside an advertising and social media campaign focused on horse welfare. But will that be enough?

What is done to prevent horse deaths during the race?

In 2020, after pre-race favorite Anthony van Dyck broke down during the cup and was subsequently euthanized, Racing Victoria commissioned a review of international horse injuries and deaths at the Melbourne Spring Carnival in the over the past decade.

The review made 44 recommendations, of which 41 were adopted. Most important – and controversial from a racing industry perspective – was the requirement that all Cup runners, local and international, undergo diagnostic CT scans of all four limbs before being allowed to race. Racing Victoria will cover the cost of the analyzes.

The number of international horses allowed into Victoria for the Spring Carnival has been capped at 24 and all international arrivals must be scanned prior to travel, at owners and trainers expense, as well as upon arrival at the Werribee quarantine facility. Veterinary analyzes and checks must be carried out or supervised by Racing Victoria veterinarians.

Limits were also placed on the number of races horses could run once in Australia.

The reason for the rule change is that a postmortem examination of Anthony van Dyck, who suffered catastrophic fractures to his left front fetlock, showed the five-year-old Irish stallion to be showing signs of pre-existing stress fractures or other pre-existing conditions. .

A scan may have detected the weakness and prompted the racetrack vets to order her scraping.

Will it make a difference?

It certainly would have made a difference for Anthony van Dyck.

Scanning or x-rays before international competition has become the norm in other parts of the equestrian world and most top performance horses have a full set of scans done annually as a precaution. The main reason for not scanning, aside from the cost, is the fear of discovering something that would prevent the horse from competing.

But that’s not a fail-safe: Horses can have catastrophic injuries without any pre-existing conditions. There are still concerns that Flemington’s harsher terrain may increase the risk for international horses used to racing in softer conditions.

One of the three recommendations that Racing Victoria did not accept after Anthony van Dyck’s death was that the minimum track score targeted for the Melbourne Cup be changed to ‘Good 4’ instead of ‘Good 3’, on a ladder where one is a hard, dry track. and 10 is very humid.

Racing Victoria said he did not accept this recommendation in part because he said the track guidelines should be applied consistently to all races for the integrity of the sport.

Will the whip be banned?

In short, not yet.

Last year, Racing Victoria presented the national body Racing Australia with a proposal to phase out the use of whips, except when necessary for safety reasons. This has soared tensions at Racing Australia to the point that the organization has appointed an independent chairman for the first time in its history, but there is no public resolution on the matter yet.

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Racing Australia was previously chaired by Peter V’Landys, the chairman of Racing NSW, who does not support Victoria’s pressure to reform the use of the whip and has called it a distracting PR exercise.

There are few studies showing the effect of riding a riding crop on horses, and racing is not the only discipline to use a riding crop – it is just the most publicized.

But an Australian study that looked at flight attendants’ reports of whip-less apprentice races in the UK found no appreciable difference in race times or safety concerns.

Is this all just a PR exercise?

It’s not just a PR exercise, but positive publicity is an important factor.

Killing horses in the country’s biggest race is very negative publicity; taking steps that could reduce these deaths will both reduce this negative publicity and improve horse welfare outcomes.

Most of the advertisements run by the racing industry in Victoria ahead of this year’s Cup focused on horse welfare, featuring recycling facilities and registered charities that focus on repatriating alumni. race horses.

The industry has also spent several years making the thoroughbred a marketable saddle horse in the trendy world of competitive equestrian sports. There are specific off-track dressage and show jumping events and the Racing Victoria Off The Track program sponsors the Garryowen, the country’s most prestigious horse show class.

These programs do not have the scale to retrain and find suitable housing for the more than 8,000 horses that leave the racing industry each year.

There is also still a lack of data on what happens to racehorses after they retire. Racing Australia requires trainers or owners to record where they send their horses and publish high profile data on these statistics each year, but it only tracks the first post-race move, usually done before the horse is 10 years old.

The average lifespan of a thoroughbred is 30 years. There is a growing consensus among the thoroughbred industry and animal welfare groups that a meaningful monitoring strategy must take into account the entire lifespan of the horse.

A Senate inquiry into this issue in 2018 recommended the creation of a national horse database that would include all horses, not just racehorses, but progress has stalled.

A separate task force of racing and welfare industry experts set up after an ABC story showing racehorses slaughtered at export slaughterhouses is expected to release a background report shortly on tracking pure -blood.

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