Has Horse Racing Lost Its Way

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Has Horse Racing Lost Its Way Empty Has Horse Racing Lost Its Way

Post by Lee on Fri Oct 31, 2014 12:11 pm

From 'The Guardian Australia'

Has horse racing lost its way in a changing Australia?

The Melbourne Cup is as popular as ever but the sport seems at odds with an increasingly urbanised and risk averse society

Earlier this month, Melbourne motorists pondered a billboard paid for by the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses. It wasn’t up for long. For racing enthusiasts, the image of a dead thoroughbred just a few furlongs from Flemington was sacrilege. As always, there was scant chance of them reaching any sort of middle ground with the animal rights protesters. As far as horse racing folk are concerned, the placard wavers wouldn’t know what a horse was if it trotted into their Centrelink appointment. The protesters, in turn, see racing people as heartless and dollar driven.

Anyone who has witnessed a trainer or strapper tend to an injured thoroughbred knows the folly of this. But the ‘Industry’ – which encompasses everyone from the plummy VRC committeeman to the gobby geezer in the Ladbrokes ads – is harder to defend. Their priorities are fiscal, not equine. As long as Melbourne opens its shoulders and unleashes at the Spring Carnival, everything else is a mere trifle.

Yet if ever the turnstiles told a bald faced lie, it is at the Spring Carnival. More than 100,000 people may pass through on a warm day but the majority are there to be seen, to drink two handed, to talk crap and to get lucky. If you diverted the trains at Flinders St, dropped the hordes in, say, Boort, erected a few giant screens, plied them with Dom Perignon and cantered a Shetland Pony through thrice hourly, most would be none the wiser.

For 11-and-a-half months of the year, racing is at the margins, at the mercy of the wagering industry and increasingly at odds with life in modern Australia. “Change or die” is the mantra in Australia’s hyper-competitive sporting marketplace. Terrified by the potential physical, psychological and legal ramifications of head injuries, the AFL sanitised its core product. Australian soccer, once bedevilled by financial incompetence and occasional violence on the terraces, reinvented itself and is drawing younger fans in droves.

Some of the less conservative racing clubs have heeded the call, scheduling marquee races late in the afternoon, thus guaranteeing maximum exposure for sponsors and ensuring punters consume as much of the sponsor’s product as possible. Many have also diversified their revenue streams with corporate functions, weddings, trade shows and conferences.

But enticing young fans remains a hard sell. In 1880, when a third of Melbourne’s population attended the Melbourne Cup, many would have had some sort of affinity with the thoroughbred and a first-hand knowledge of life on the land. But the realities of horse racing contrast starkly with 21st-century life in Australia’s big cities. Ours is an increasingly urbanised and risk-averse society. In many Australian schools, somersaults, cartwheels, swings and ropes are banned. From this, racing expects are expected to draw the next generation of fans and participants to a sport where the spectre of equine and human fatality looms large. What’s more, 25% of our citizens were born in countries where they don’t have public holidays for horse races and get misty eyed about champion thoroughbreds.

But Australian racing’s problems run deeper than attracting new fans. For too long, jockeys, trainers, owners and racing clubs have been held hostage by the TAB and the breeding industry. There are too many horses and too many tinpot races. No one can convincingly explain what happens to the sizeable percentage of horses that don’t pay their way – the figures on how many are killed and how many are kept are blurry. The industry breeds for speed. The riches on offer in two-year-old racing demand it. Participants are tantalised by the prospect of a quick return on their investment. They throw enough eggs at the wall and hope the occasional one doesn’t break.

The odd freak sprinter aside, Australian horses seem to get slower every year. European second stringers have been competitive in our major staying races in recent times. Potential superstars invariably rupture tendons, jar up on the hard tracks or are shuffled off to the breeding shed. Our most esteemed race, the Cox Plate, was last year won by a maiden, the equivalent of a schoolboy winning the Brownlow Medal. On Melbourne Cup Day, as the Aga Khan’s horse lay dying in the Flemington straight, Damien Oliver, a man who has damaged racing’s reputation, was making his victory speech. As the horse was being euthanised, the host broadcaster was interviewing a mixologist in a corporate marquee.

Neville Penton, the author of A Racing Heart, once wrote that the sport “elevates a chosen few and dumps its rejects into life’s big tip”. Australian racing remains the sandpit of former casino bosses, ad men, mining magnates, bookmaking dynasties and the landed gentry. But those at the coalface do it tough. Being a jockey, in particular, is a perilous pursuit. A recent Medical Journal of Australia study found that being a jockey in Australia was more dangerous than being a professional boxer, skydiver or motorcyclist. In just over 12 months, four female jockeys have died on Australian racetracks. Training horses is also increasingly fraught and invariably a one-way ticket to the poor house. Lee Freedman, arguably the most successful trainer of his generation, recently relinquished control of his stable because he couldn’t turn a buck.

The Spring Carnival still has much going for it. A glorious spring day at Flemington still feels like an entire city emerging from its winter burrow. And racing still taps into some very Australian traits – our fatalism, our harsh humour, our love of an opinion. As the ABC’s Michael Hutak wrote last year, “the turf encapsulates this country’s will to risk, to transgress, to straighten and to punish.”

But when the booze-hounds catch the last train home, the marquees come down, the horses are sent to the spelling paddock and the celebrities stumble back to the D List, reality sets in. All we’re left with is empty racetracks, dead jockeys and a nagging question – save for a month of manufactured mayhem, is all this hullaballoo economically viable and in any way justifiable?

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Post by UncleHuey on Fri Oct 31, 2014 1:41 pm

Seems that the author is already on the side of the placard wavers.
"increasingly at odds with life in modern Australia" - says who? Sure we are no longer riding horses to work and to deliver our milk but that is hardly a reason to close down the thoroughbred industry.

If you are basing the relevance of sporting events on the decrease in numbers since the late 19th century then AFL is headed to the knackery as well. In fact horse racing is symbolic of a lot of yong people fashions. They want it glossy and disposable, it has to be short lived with a look at me factor, and they prefer all the hard dirty work is done by someone else out of sight while they post selfies to their friends. People get injured in sport everyday. Do we ban AFL because someone became a paraplegic in an accident, close down car racing because a driver gets killed ploughing into a wall, ban skiing because Michael Schumacher hurt himself?

"at odds with an increasingly urbanised and risk averse society" or perhaps the "placard wavers" and animal liberationalists have just deemed it politically incorrect and do not care that the unwashed illiterate masses might actually enjoy a punt?


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Post by Scrappy on Tue Nov 11, 2014 7:17 pm

Spot on Huey
People get injured at work
Should we all stop working ?

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Post by testy on Tue Nov 11, 2014 8:02 pm

I am not sure what this article was trying to achieve.

The last comment was "save for a month of manufactured mayhem is all this hullabaloo economically viable and in any way justifiable".

Hundreds of thousands of people are employed nation wide by the thoroughbred industry which generates billions of dollars for the economy and a few negatives are highlighted.

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Post by bayman on Tue Nov 11, 2014 9:41 pm

some think opera is antiquated & opera singers can do damage to their voices & more, so perhaps we should ban opera, as scrappy says maybe we should ban work, trains, cars, planes etc etc

i was in the trainers stand when River Amos fell at Oakbank (slipped on the turn out of the straight, NOT AT A HURDLE) in this stand was the trainer & 2 kids & they obviously loved their horse as the 3 of them broke down uncontrollably

i've spent time at various stables over the years at both thoroughbreds & standardbred stables & 99.9% of the people with horses love their horses & treat them like you'd expect a parent to care for a child

i know a lady that has 2 jobs to cover the feed & upkeep of her daughters horses & ponies, she does it for 2 reasons her love for her daughter & her love of horses

if some ''Governments'' around the world cared for their own people as much as people with horses care about them, then perhaps there would be no one in the world starving & the world will be a happier place to live in

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