I HAD justifiably high hopes for Super Cool in the Melbourne Cup. After reading and listening to bookies, I whacked a modest $50 on his nose at $31 – unfortunately, I lost.
My loss, however, was bearable - unlike that of Cup galloper, Verema, who snapped her cannon bone during the race and was put down moments later.
In the wake of Verema’s tragedy, the Australian horse racing industry is enduring more flak as it plunges further into a defensive stance on animal welfare.
Of course, the mud slingers know as much about horses as I do about backing a winner, but their ranting combined with support from select celebrities can shift public opinion.
Meanwhile, the trainers, owners and stablehands do what they can for their love of the animals and industry, and have to defend their right to do so.
Last Wednesday, celebrity vet Dr Chris Brown – also known as the Bondi Vet - launched “Just One Percent”, an appeal to get 1 per cent of the $2.3 billion turnover from gambling set aside for the welfare of failed and former racehorses.
Chris, like countless others in the public eye, is responsible for informing, creating and shaping public opinion. Some would say his “dreamy” good looks foster an attraction, his veterinary experience gives him qualification and his TV series and books validate his position to be an authority on all things animal. Thanks to Channel 10, his message echoes through hundreds of thousands of households with far more impact than industry bodies could dream of.
Chris said on national television just 24 hours after the Melbourne Cup that “some ex-racehorses are left to paddocks and they just don’t survive on grass alone, they’re extremely efficient athletes that are used to being fed very concentrated foods. They cannot survive on grass, they usually starve to a very slow death in that situation”.
I can see where he gets that from, the horses in Centennial Park, just near Bondi in Sydney, won’t do too well without being hand fed.
Jokes aside, we’ll now see the racing industry enter an upward struggle to share the truth with Australians who unquestionably absorb these lies.
George Bernard Shaw said “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” And the racing industry is now seeing this at whole new level, a level many of us in agriculture have been dealing with for years.
I’ve owned and cared for up to 30 ex-racers in my time. Some raced for up to nine years, some never made it. Some were firey and full of energy, while some were as quiet as a mouse. One thing they all had in common when on my property is that they lived on grass. I know we’ve trimmed and tampered with breeding, but I figured several thousand years of evolution might outweigh the few hundred years of bucket feeding chaff, grain and lucerne. It works for horses not in heavy work or in foal, which for thousands of ex-racing thoroughbred owners is the case. I know my mob of monogastric ex-racers looked a bit feral and wild in their big paddocks packed with pasture, but geez they were healthy and happy.
It’s also worth noting the Bondi Vet’s “Just One Percent” idea is exactly the same as one the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses allegedly put to the Victoria Racing Club earlier in the year.
This horse welfare gang are a South Melbourne–based vegan group that are struggling with momentum. While on vegans, it was disappointing to see Dr Brown quote figures derived from Animals Australia, as they also never let the truth get in the way of an objective. He also used phrases like “make it happen” in his six minute segment on Channel Ten’s The Project program, which sounds awfully familiar. So what’s going on there?
This idea is commendable, although as always when it comes to animals, there’s a strong misunderstanding from most people as to what does actually happen to ex-racers, and of course the trusty activist groups are always there to put their two bobs’ worth in.
Not forgetting as well there are many ex-racers that are committed to the “circle of life” and pack out our tins of dog food – even Dr Chris has commented publicly that dogs can’t be vegans. His project may have the unintended effect of raising the cost of production of pet food and pull up supply, which in turn will anger many of his loyal fans when they’ll be paying $10 for a tin of dog food.
I hope Chris chooses a moral ground which allows the industry to find a front foot and keeps a bigger picture view on the overall effectiveness, relativity and purpose of the pledge. After all, when it comes to animal welfare, it’s those on the front line who are best qualified to speak out.