2014 Melbourne Cup winner, Protectionist in action at the barrier trials at Newcastle. Photo: Marina Neil ZZN Gai Waterhouse trained horses Bohemian Lily, Ecuador and Excess Knowledge. Photo: Vince Caligiuri
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It’s Derby Day with the spring racing carnival in full flight and the nation gearing up for Tuesday’s running of the Melbourne Cup.
Collective amnesia is already the race favourite.
One year ago, the Cup was the most deadly in 154 years.
The pre-race favourite, Admire Rakti ran last and collapsed in his stall, his death recorded for posterity on YouTube.
The field returned to the mounting yard when seventh placegetter Araldo, spooked by a flag in the crowd, kicked the fence and broke a leg and was put down by university vets that night.
The deaths created a furore and raised questions about whether horses were pushed too far for profit and fun.
The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses claims since the Melbourne Cup fatalities at least 115 horses have died on Australian racetracks.
Coalition campaign director Elio Celotto said the total deaths were a slight decrease on the previous year when 133 horses died.
“Still, that means a horse died on an Australian racecourse every 3.2 days this year,” he said.
“This year the most lethal course is Rosehill Gardens in Sydney, home of the famous two-year-old race The Golden Slipper. A total of six horses died on their track.”
Mr Celotto said the horses that died in 2014/15 represented 0.32 per cent of the 36,000 horses currently racing but claimed many thousands more “disappeared” or were cycled out of the industry annually.
The industry moved to quell the furore that followed the Melbourne Cup deaths – in 2013 Verema broke a leg and was euthanised on the Flemington track as the field thundered down the straight, the first horse to be put down since Three Crowns in 1998 and favourite Dulcify in 1979.
Racing Australia chief executive Peter McGauran said animal rights groups had seized on the 2014 deaths to make a political point to shut down racing and stressed the level of safety and veterinary care for racehorses was of the highest standard and extremely well regulated. He preferred to focus on reforms that addressed what happened to animals after their racing careers were over.
He said 7461 animals left the industry last year and 68 per cent of them became equestrians or pleasure horses, 20 per cent went into breeding, 3.5 per cent were euthanised.
“We passed a rule 12 months ago requiring owners to advise us on the retirement of their horse and its destination/future. It’s the first such rule in the world and the results largely tally with the surveys we were previously undertaking. We have a good story to tell on the retirement of racehorses,” he said.
Mr Celotto said many Australians were aware of the cruelty involved in racing and were turning their backs on the sport.
He cited attendances for the Melbourne Cup Carnival: In 2006, 418,069 went to Flemington, last year only 325,519 rolled up.
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