It’s a fair bet that far fewer Australians will pause this year to watch the race that has traditionally stopped the nation. This year’s spring racing carnival has been badly tarnished by graphic footage of racehorses being killed at abattoirs and knackeries, and revelations of alleged animal cruelty and doping linked to trainer Darren Weir and his assistant.
Already, on many of the big race days, there has been a fraught mix of protesters calling for the industry to be shut down and racegoers in their finery hoping for an enjoyable time at the track. Extra police will patrol the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday to ensure the groups don’t clash. Since the public outing of racing’s ugly side, the industry has been desperately trying to respond. It knows that spring racing’s appeal to those beyond regular punters is a heady mix of fashion and entertainment that will struggle to survive the sordid stories behind the beautiful animals on show.
A grab-bag of possible solutions and soothing words was offered. Racing Australia led the charge soon after the footage was released, with chief executive Barry O’Farrell demanding that prosecutions “should, and I suspect will, occur”. The Queensland government called for an investigation, while Racing NSW was adamant there was “nothing to see here”. Its head, Peter V’landys, said NSW was the only state that banned the killing of horses at abattoirs and backed its already existing equine welfare fund, used in part to buy properties across NSW to rehome horses.
Racing Victoria chair Brian Kruger offered up $25 million to monitor and rehome retired racehorses but refused to follow NSW in banning the killing of horses at abattoirs, claiming it would merely send the practice underground. He instead revealed a program involving veterinarians being sent to farms to euthanase horses considered not suitable for rehoming. “You can’t just have an outright ban and not deal with the causes,” he said.