Which horse will be the one to sustain a severe injury and be forcibly put down by race officials? Alex McKinnon has produced a handy form guide.
It’s the race that stops the nation, and I’m not talking about the legions of rich old white buggers holding Australia back from moving beyond our own stifling mediocrity. The Melbourne Cup is back for another year, as is our slowly dawning collective realisation that forcing animals to run at speeds that frequently kill them for our entertainment is a fairly shitty thing to do.
It’s a day of great tradition: clocking out of work early, getting biliously drunk in the middle of the day, dressing up in weird outfits that make you look like you’re going to a vaguely racist theme party at a private college. But come race time, one tradition trumps all others: placing a cheeky bet on the outcome. The office pools, the handshake wagers, the billions of dollars reaped out of low-income postcodes by the gambling industry — they’re what make the Melbourne Cup the truly singular cultural event it is.
In that spirit, we’ve prepared our very own official Melbourne Cup form guide to answer the question on everyone’s lips: which horse will be the one to sustain a severe injury and be forcibly put down by race officials. Using rigorous scientific testing and state-of-the-art betting technology, our team of experts will give YOU the need-to-know inside scoop on which of these 24 horses is going to momentarily interrupt everyone’s Melbourne Cup fun by dying.
1. Big Orange
Famously named after Donald Trump, this hardy English stayer has a complex and fragile series of bones in his legs that shatter irreparably when placed under great strain, such as from competitive horse racing. Big Orange has the inside barrier and should be a serious contender, assuming he manages to survive.
2. Our Ivanhowe
Horses’ leg bones often bend under pressure before they break, making them nearly impossible to reset. If Our Ivanhoe can stay with the pack and doesn’t have any leg bones permanently bent from years of intense racing that are causing it immense suffering already, it should achieve a respectable place.
3. Curren Mirotic
133 horses died on Australian racetracks in 2014, which evens out to about one every three days. According to the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, the real figure is likely to be much higher, as deaths after retirement or during training frequently go unreported. Will Curren Mirotic draw the short straw? ‘Mirotic’ sounds like it might be a disease of some kind, so with those sort of numbers you couldn’t rule it out, could you.
4. Bondi Beach
Much like the iconic piece of Australia it’s named after, this five-year-old bay will be a focal point of belligerent dickheads who express their ‘love’ for something by trashing it for their momentary amusement while displaying zero concern for its long-term welfare.
In the last three years, four horses have died after running in the Melbourne Cup. In 2014, Araldo and Admire Rakti died after the race, while in 2013 Verema broke down on-track. Last year, Red Cadeaux broke its left foreleg during the race, and was put down three weeks later when its injury proved untreatable. Exospheric has never run 3200 metres before, which seems like a bit of an oversight, but okay.
The named favourite of many betting agencies, which are expected to collect upwards of $340 million from this one race alone. Take heart, Hartnell! If you die, at least your years were well spent making money for people like Tom Waterhouse.
7. Who Shot Thebarman
Referencing guns in a horse’s name is a bold move, considering the main way of euthanising an injured racehorse is by shooting it in the head as it lays on the track. Tempting fate there, guys!
8. Wicklow Brave
In 2014, Australians spent $26 billion on race and sports betting. By way of comparison, our total national defence budget for 2016-17 is $32.3 billion. Maybe we could get value for money both ways by enlisting Wicklow Brave in a slightly less dangerous pastime than horseracing, like training Iraqi defence personnel in Baghdad.
That $26 billion in punts washed out to around $2 billion in profit for betting agencies and the TAB. ‘Almoonqith’ sounds like something a crazed gambling tycoon would name the yacht he takes better care of than the horses he owns, so maybe that’s a good omen for this seven-year-old bay. Probably not, though!
Last year, the University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment Clinic found that the explosion in mobile gambling apps and associated advertising has contributed to a massive increase in online gambling addiction, especially among young men. Little-known fact: ‘Gallante’ is Spanish for “exacerbating Australia’s already chronic problem gambling epidemic”, so even if this horse makes it out alive, he’s kind of a jerk anyway.
11. Grand Marshal
In 2014, Australians lost $814 million on sports betting, a form of gambling that’s traditionally paled in comparison to the losses people sustain on poker machines. Our total gambling losses that year averaged out to $1,279 for every adult, and with online sports betting on the rise, that number is likely to keep climbing too. Grand Marshal is indifferent to these worrying trends. He is a horse.
Horses are not skeletally mature until they’re at least five years old, dramatically increasing younger horses’ risk of severe injury. Most two-year-old horses that race sustain an injury in their debut year — in the words of Gai Waterhouse, two-year-olds “can be here today and gone tomorrow”. Jameka is four years old. Good luck, kid!
13. Heartbreak City
While the vast majority of race horses don’t die on the track, there’s evidence to suggest the intensive, confined training regime of a typical race horse causes mental distress and suffering. Race horses are typically stabled for long periods of time rather than allowed to roam, which often results in stereotypic behaviours indicating anxiety, boredom and frustration. If Heartbreak City dies this afternoon, expect a flood of crocodile-tear headlines riffing on his name.
14. Sir John Hawkwood
This eight-year-old Sydney gelding is named after a 14th Century English mercenary who amassed a large fortune fighting for various French and Italian factions. He must have been quite the bastard to be reincarnated as a racehorse in 21st Century Australia. That’s what you get for razing the town of Cesena at the orders of Antipope Clement VII in 1377, John!
15. Excess Knowledge
The lives race horses lead also cause physical pain and suffering outside of race-sustained injuries. A 1999 study found that around 90 percent of Australian race horses have potentially fatal stomach ulcers caused by the concentrated food and additives they’re fed to enhance performance. How’s that for ‘excess knowledge’, amirite guys? Eh? Eh?
16. Beautiful Romance
The last few years have seen a number of studies overturning the long-held industry line that whipping race horses doesn’t cause them pain, which seems kind of obvious if you think about it. While jockeys are restricted in how hard and often they can hit their horses, whips are still commonplace in Australian racing. Unless Beautiful Romance’s idea of a beautiful romance is getting beaten with a padded stick for three-and-a-half minutes, he’s probably going to have a pretty bad day.
Race horses also frequently contract exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which is a fancy way of saying their lungs bleed. A University of Melbourne study in 2005 found that more than half of race horses display signs of EIPH after a race, so Almandin’s probably not exactly going to have a whale of a time either.
An estimated 10,000 horses are killed each year after being deemed unfit for racing, a practise known as ‘wastage’. A University of Sydney study estimated that around 40 percent of race horses leave the industry each year, and many are disposed of via slaughter. Even if this six-year-old gelding beats the odds and brings it home, Assign’s as likely to wind up getting shot for pet food as he is to spend retirement in a paddock somewhere.
19. Grey Lion
The vast wastage in the horse racing industry mirrors that in the greyhound industry, which kills up to 17,000 healthy animals a year out of every 17,500 born. While Mike Baird’s short-lived ban on greyhound racing was overturned last month, it was enough to spook Racing NSW into establishing a Horse Welfare Fund funded by 1 percent of prizemoney. No one has told Grey Lion, however, which seems a bit rude.
A recent University of Melbourne study found extended rest periods between races are important in preventing leg fractures. A racing horse’s fetlock joint undergoes five tonnes of pressure with every stride at full speed, leading to stress fractures over time if the horse isn’t given time to heal. One of the favourites to win, Oceanographer won the 2,500 metre Lexus Stakes at Flemington on Saturday.
21. Secret Number
Secret Number hit the jackpot early on by being one of the very, very few horses bred for racing that actually make it that far. Overbreeding is a massive issue, but the racing industry is notoriously tight-lipped on how many bred foals don’t make it to the track, or what happens to them.
Speaking of weird archaic sports that people forget about for years at a time, I almost forgot to mention jumps racing! Jumps racing is to horseracing what roller derby is to roller skating. It has far higher rates of horse injury and death, as well as risk to jockeys. Victoria is one of only two states where jumps racing is still legal, and declares Melbourne Cup Day an actual public holiday, which is dumber than the actual pentathlon.
According to the website of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, aka the Justin Trudeau of the Yarra, “Victoria’s racing industry has a strong future under an Andrews Labor Government”. Qewy has an extensive jumps history, so if he’s not bullied to death by the other horses for having such a stupid name, a stylised jumps hedge just might do it.
24. Rose of Virginia
The hands-down favourite for the wooden spoon. If one of the 23 other horses racing today does die on the track — and if the last three years are any indicator, it’s more likely than not — Rose of Virginia will have the dubious honour of not coming in last by virtue of surviving. The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses has a handy guide for how you can help racehorses on Melbourne Cup Day. Rather than supporting animal cruelty, check that out instead.