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Death of international horses "beyond the point of crisis"


It’s a big day in the world … the news updates will magnify in significance over the coming hours.

I feel a rare sense of inner conflict today, it’s deeply personal but I can’t imagine I’m the only one wrestling with such emotions.

I love the Melbourne Cup.

I love what it means to the city I grew up in.

I love the sporting theatre and contest and I’m a heart and soul subscriber to the romance of the turf.

I’d love to sit here and talk about the race that saved the occasion.

An act of derring-do from a jockey that’s so rarely seen and so thrilling to behold.

I wasn’t sure it was any longer possible to lead from barrier to post over the grueling two miles.

Part of me felt Might and Power’s deeds were now a museum piece.

When Jye McNeil ratcheted up the pace and stretched the field to breaking point you couldn’t have expected him to hang on but Twilight Payment was magnificently brave and his place in folklore is well won.

An eight-year-old gelding who at his first attempt ran 11th and returned a year later to win the Cup leading all the way.

There’s a few conventions laid to waste there.

I’d love to sit here an ponder Lloyd Williams’ place in the history of the Melbourne Cup as he puts a seventh trophy on the mantle.

For a period of time Bart Cummings unlocked the secret to winning the Melbourne Cup, Lloyd has done something different.

Through his fortune, his intellect and his obsession he’s changed the course of the race’s history or at the very least, recognised and understood the sharp evolutionary change that’s come over it.

Lloyd’s first three Cups came at intervals and in the old way, Just a Dash, What A Nuisance and Efficient.

Now it’s a cluster, four of the past nine, Green Moon, Almandin, Rekindling, Twilight Payment. The first two he likely trained himself, the next two out of Ireland.

I would love to marvel at the quirk that the world’s greatest trainer keeps getting pipped in his quest to win the three handled loving Cup by his son.

Irish maestro Aidan O’Brien brought his strongest team to these shores yet and finished runner up in each of the Caulfield Cup, the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup.

At Flemington he’s had son Joseph beat him twice, first with Rekindling over Johannes Vermeer and now with Twilight Payment besting Tiger Moth.

There’s a season of Succession in those races alone.

I’d love to sit here and debate the point the people’s race has reached.

Over the past four runnings of the Cup 11 of the 12 placings have been filled by internationally trained horses.

Not those bought by Australians and repatriated vut proper international runners who have overwhelmed our national treasure.

This is why Vow And Declare was such a critical winner last year but the trend suggests that will prove the exception.

Do we still see ourselves in our great race?

But if that was the extent of our conversation this morning that wouldn’t be terribly honest would it?

It would airbrush the disaster because it’s too difficult or distressing to talk about and wretchedly inconvenient… and frankly hard.

For the fifth time in eight years a horse died having run in the Melbourne Cup.

The best horse to set foot on Australian shores in almost two decades died on the Flemington track behind the screens opposite the Makybe statue.

Thank god there was no one there to see it.

The death of English Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck is devastating.

What you will hear in response are statistics justifying the low mortality rate in Victorian racing, and this is true, and you will hear how wonderfully cared for racehorses are, and this is true, but the truth when it comes to the Melbourne Cup is hard and cold.

Vareema, Admire Rakti, Red Cadeaux, The Cliffs of Moher and Anthony Van Dyck all died as a result of their participation in the race.

All were international horses coming out of the quarantine centre at Werribee.

There’s not a scientist or mathematician in the world that wouldn’t recognize this as a cluster.

It’s as upsetting as it is confronting and it’s worse than that.

29 horses arrived in Australia from overseas to contest this year’s Spring Carnival, three are dead and at least two others have suffered career-ending injuries.

That’s a frightening toll.

Dead horses were never part of the Melbourne Cup. If they were, the race would never have won its way into our national affection.

Every now and then there was a tragedy, Dulcify in 1979 still causes distress.

It should be a one in forty year event so don’t listen to anyone today who tries to tell you these things happen.

Racing officials investigate each of these events.

They find cause to treat them separately and deny there’s an overall problem.

Five times in eight years there’s been a random act of god apparently.

That’s not good enough.

I would hope every person in racing with any level of authority and responsibility has endured the same sleepless night I did.

So I want to be really clear about this and I will make no effort to disguise my anger and I will make not apology to those who will be affronted, the spate of deaths in recent Melbourne Cups is a national disgrace and is now beyond the point of crisis.

If the custodians of the race are unwilling or unable to immediately address this with decisive drastic action, they should remove themselves from those positions or the Racing Minister should step in and do it for them.

For if they fail to address this, the Cup will lose its place in our affections.

In a generation’s time it’ll be the race we used to stop to watch.

It will just be another event we gamble heavily on like US Presidential elections and no love ever sprouted from the punt.

I ask myself this, and I doubt I’m alone, how can you run a sweep at home and after the race tell one of the kids your horse died?

This was never a regular risk or occurrence.

Dead horses cannot be the price of running the Melbourne Cup.

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