So it's glamorous and exciting. Right? Well, yes, in some ways it is but I feel somewhat conflicted about it for a number of reasons. There are the human costs. Horse racing is a dangerous activity where jockeys can be and are injured, often severely. Michelle Payne, this year's winning jockey, had recently spent 15 months recovering from a brain injury and broken arms, legs and shoulder injuries are common. Another problem is the way many of those attending the race meeting drink far too much. The result is not pretty and sometimes dangerous. Then there's the issue of betting with much advertising of on-line betting firms who think that putting a very brief tag end exhortation to bet responsibly is enough to fulfil their responsibilities not to encourage those who are addicted to gambling.
And then there's something that's rarely talked about - the potential harm to the horses. Personally I don''t like to see horses being whipped - it's one of the reasons I don't go to the races - but there is another problem. In 2014 two horses died at the Melbourne Cup, one from a heart attack in his stall immediately after the race and another, spooked by a flag following the race, kicked a fence shattering a leg. This year Red Cadeaux, a ten year old and very popular, crowd pleasing gelding, finished the race with an injury to his fetlock. This horse is one of the lucky ones because the injury can be treated - unlike a shattered leg bone which, given the weight of a racehorse (around half a tonne) and that they need to weight bear on all four legs to support themselves, is almost always a cause for euthanasia. Red Cadeaux is obviously much loved by his connections and is to be retired but it still begs the question as to whether we really have the handling of racehorses right.
I'm not an expert on horses but it seems to me that we have perhaps gone too far in breeding horses for racing by favouring animals with light leg bones which makes them at risk of shattering a leg. Racehorses are beautiful and very fast - but perhaps we need a rethink about their well being. To me it's a bit like the pedigree dogs bred for looks which cause health issues like protruding eyes which dry out or pushed in noses that make breathing difficult. They may be very appealing to our eyes but is it worth the animal's discomfort or, in the case of a racehorse, the risk of serious injury? I don't know the answer but I'd be pleased to hear what you think.