Those are sobering figures. Make your own minds up, about whether you find the numbers acceptable – it isn’t my job or responsibility to prescribe the prism through which you should analyse these things. Statistics can be misleading, but nobody would countenance those odds as being reasonable, if we were talking about the mortality rates of marathon runners. But there’s an anomaly which, as very much a non-statistician, confounds me …
I’m too young to remember Dulcify winning the 1979 Cox Plate; by SEVEN LENGTHS. Thankfully, I was just four years old and too young to remember when Dulcify then tragically fractured his pelvis during the Melbourne Cup, run 10 days later. Punters sent Dulcify out a commanding favourite in the ’79 renewal of the Cup; his ultimate fate was to be euthanised on humane grounds, such was the insufferable extent of his injuries.
As I discern these matters, Dulcify’s death 40 years ago was incomprehensibly saddening; the death of any horse in racing is repugnant. Factor in that Dulcify was Australia’s champion racehorse of the time, who’d positively annihilated a class Cox Plate field 10 days prior to his untimely death. Consider also that Dulcify also won the Mackinnon Stakes at weight for age, the Saturday before his last race.
When I was a little boy, I had a sports book which included a photo of Dulcify and his strapper, taken moments before the horse was put down. If memory serves me faithfully, the strapper was absolutely inconsolable; it’s an image I’ve not forgotten. Dulcify’s death still resonates, for reasons including that he was a champion.
But also, in the era that Dulcify died and for many years thereafter, deaths weren’t frequent or normal in the Melbourne Cup. In 1998, the Singaporean-trained Three Crowns shattered a bone in one of its legs mid-race, and failed to finish that year’s Melbourne Cup and later died, but again that tragedy was an outlier.
An examination of the recent instances of horses sustaining serious injuries in the Melbourne Cup and dying, is a cause of manifest concern.
On Tuesday the Aidan O’Brien-trained Anthony Van Dyck – victorious in the 2019 renewal of the English Derby, and possibly the best-credentialed international stayer to ever to set foot on an Australian racetrack – fractured a fetlock in the home straight at Flemington, while shouldering the topweight of 58.5 kilograms. Second also in the Caulfield Cup, Anthony Van Dyck has now died.
Seven horses have died since 2013 as a result of starting on Melbourne Cup day; Rostropovich, who survived despite fracturing a pelvis in the 2019 race, was almost the eighth.
It’s opportunistic, moronic nonsense for the #nuptothecup brigade to bleat on about the inevitable deadliness of the Melbourne Cup; it’s equally shameful and appalling that the ABC (as an example), in its news bulletins on Tuesday, decided to show a super slo-mo of the instant when Anthony Van Dyck broke his leg and fell.
But by equal measure, there’s something warped going on here, which maybe hasn’t got anything to do with statistics. Is it nothing other than coincidence that these eight horses that have either died or almost died, were all bred outside of Australia?
Should we draw conclusions, because all of those horses started their racing careers outside Australia? Can anything be said of the fact the majority of those eight horses were trained by overseas trainers, when they raced in their last race? Is it the firm Australian tracks? The tempo at which the Melbourne Cup is run, or the weights that these horses have carried? Is it the impact of shuttling a 500-kilogram horse from one side of the world, to the other?
Or are none of these factors of any relevance whatsoever?
Frankly, I don’t know and I’m not at all qualified to draw any such conclusions based on the answers. But I’ll say this much – those who do know infinitely more than I do about these things than me, must do everything conceivable to ensure that another seven horses don’t die by racing in the Melbourne Cup between now and 2028.
Darren Kane is a sports columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.