Fascinators flutter in the breeze, like butterflies dancing over bright flowers.
The glamorous masses prance, and shriek and laugh, placing bets and downing bubbles. Spirits are high. The fillies stamp and snort in their holding pens and a hush falls upon the crowd as the main race lines up to start.
I can understand fully the appeal of the day: the glitz and glamour, the pomp and ceremony. We all admire the unbridled power of a muscular stallion as he thunders towards the finish line, black glossy coat shining under the Australian sun. He seems to move in slow motion, the handsome jockey skillfully guiding him to a glorious triumph.
Most of us could agree that this spectacle moves us. The intensity of one of nature’s most graceful creatures, coupled with the thrill of the race, the striking spectators, the festivity of winning.
And yet today at the Melbourne Cup, as at so many horse races, tragedy raises its solemn head. Admire Rakti, a Japanese racehorse, pulled up distressed after the cup race, and collapsed, dying in his stall.
Later this evening, Araldo, unable to be saved after breaking his leg, was also put down. The race that stops a nation turned out to be the race that ended their lives. My heart aches for their owners and carers, for whom this would be such a very personal loss.
This isn’t a one off occurrence, of course. Last year French runner Verema was also euthanized after breaking her leg in the same race.
There comes a point then, where we have to ask ourselves how long we can justify the party. An animal rights group called The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses recently launched a new campaign striking out against the industry, calling out not just the issues that accompany racing, but also the treatment of these racers at the end of their careers.
The industry has hit back, arguing that welfare is at the forefront of their minds. Yet one could reasonably argue there is still a fair way for them to go in order to learn from the deaths of these fallen beauties. Animals Australia is calling for a retirement plan for all racehorses, the abolishment of whipping and jumps racing. I for one would support this wholeheartedly.
Though there will always be a risk in racing—just as there is for any human sport— horse racing doesn’t always have to mean pain and a bleak future for our four-legged friends.
I don’t want to be the fun police. I also don’t want to assume that I know what’s best for these horses. Perhaps they are given access to the best care, and vets and luxuries that they wouldn’t otherwise receive in a far off paddock somewhere if not competing. Perhaps they love the thrill of the race, the feel of the track beneath their hooves and the wind in their mane. Who can say for certain? Not me.
All that I really hope for is awareness, and through that awareness, accountability.
Let us recognize that there is more to Race Day than just an afternoon of revelry, drinking with friends.
Let us remember there are real lives at stake here.
Let us understand that it is our responsibility to hold the industry responsible for the well being of these majestic beauties, to fight their fight where we are able, for they most certainly, are not.
“If not us, then who. If not now, then when?’John E. Lewis.
Originally published here on Elephant Journal