Jockey rides Admire Rakti from the racecourse, minutes before the horse’s death from heart failure

With two horses dead after yesterday’s Melbourne Cup and a growing sense among the public of the grisly toll this heavily subsidised industry exacts from animals, you’d have thought the industry itself would start adjusting its messaging to reflect a changing reality — if purely from a public relations point of view.

Not so — or certainly not Peter McGauran, head of the Australian Racing Board. McGauran used to be a Nationals federal politician, and a successful one, having been, at various stages, minister for science, minister for agriculture and minister for the arts under John Howard. These were impressive achievements given McGauran is not, shall we say, over-endowed with intellect, although he shares that common Nationals trait of being a nice bloke regardless of what you may think of his politics.

But McGauran went on the attack over the death of Admire Rakti. He was quoted in The Australian saying, “it is exploitative and ghoulish in the extreme for the animal rights groups to seize on the death of the beloved animal to make a political point”.

It’s not at all clear why McGauran thinks objecting to animal cruelty is “political” — perhaps he shares the traditional hard Left “everything is political” view of the world. Fair enough. But it’s even less clear why using the death of an animal to criticise an industry for its tendency to kill animals is “exploitative”. One would have thought exploitative meant forcing an animal to run until its heart gives out for the wagering and amusement of drunken onlookers. Or that exploitative was doing nothing about the fact that jockeys are regularly killed and injured in the industry and often struggle to be properly compensated. As for the “beloved” animal, it’s hard to see how you could so regularly hurt animals you claim to “love” — one suspects the racing industry loves horses in the same way the car racing industry loves motor vehicles — as splendid assets that can, with the right attention and control, make lots of money, but which are easily replaced if destroyed.

Still, at least McGauran didn’t produce the most absurd line of the whole business. That belongs to Racing Victoria’s chief vet Brian Stewart who — before an autopsy revealed that, indeed, Admire Rakti had died from heart failure brought on by running in the race — was reported as saying the death would be categorised under the splendidly Pythonesque “sudden death syndrome”. Presumably “sudden death syndrome” occurs frequently in the horse racing industry, but of course has absolutely nothing to do with flogging animals until they collapse for their owners’ profit.

Peter Fray

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