It’s the race that has long been said to stop the nation, but in 2019 there’s a sense that some sections of Australian society have moved beyond unconditional support for an event that has become a flashpoint for animal rights campaigns.
This year’s race comes in the dark aftermath of the ABC’s expose on ‘wastage’ in the industry, with gory depictions of horses being sent to the slaughterhouse.
There has also recently been the high-profile case of former Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Darren Weir, banned after being accused of using a ‘jigger’ that conditions horses to run faster through the use of electric shocks.
Then there’s the increasing roll call of horse deaths in the past six years – six of them, as some of the internationals in particular are apparently pushed beyond their conditioning for the tough 3200-metre test.
Still, beyond the Bart Cummings triumphs and pay-to-play success of the well-heeled owners like Lloyd Williams, there has been one constant in the history of the Melbourne Cup – the battler’s redemption story.
This year that honour goes to western Victorian bush trainer Paul Preusker, with the $5500 buy Surprise Baby winning through to the big race.
To be ridden by 23-year-old Jordan Childs – the son of Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate-winning jockey Greg Childs – a win by Surprise Baby would kick off celebrations in Preusker’s home base of Horsham and offer any number of sentimental storylines about overcoming the odds.
Unfortunately though, this year, it’s not really the redemption story the racing industry needs.
Preusker was banned for four years in 2007 for using a jigger, the same instrument causing Weir and the industry so much grief.
As befits a bloke from the bush Preusker has been up front about his disgrace, telling the Wimmera Mail Times that he’d always loved animals, but in battling for success had lost sight of what was important.
“It’s a little bit like, you can get lost, and something like that shakes you right again,” Preusker said.
That’s exactly what happened. It’s rehabilitated me.’’
After the revelations that have rocked racing this year, expect a lot more cash to be poured in to marketing and PR to rehabilitate the industry’s reputation.
After all, Australia loves a redemption story.
Raining on their parade
After the recent controversies, officials were pleased that the Melbourne Cup parade through the streets of Melbourne passed without serious incident, although in the usual rainy weather.
Animal rights campaigners were out in force, taking up a position in Federation Square at the end of the parade through the CBD and chanting “Blood on your hands” and “Say nup to the Cup” as the procession of trainers, owners and jockeys passed.
Kristin Leigh, from the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, said support for the group had swelled since the ABC’s 7.30 footage was broadcast of racehorses being sent to slaughter.
“People are certainly waking up to the truth behind this industry. People can’t say they don’t know any more,” she told AAP.
“If you’re going to the races this year and you saw 7.30, you are complicit in that animal abuse.”
What gets lost in that argument is the care and love that most in the racing industry offer their animals, with horse trainer Fiona McIntyre riding the parade on retired racehorse Precedence.
McIntyre also decried the footage aired on the ABC.
“I think it’s revolting. The abattoirs need to clean up their acts,” she said.
“These horses have an amazing opportunity once they’re retired and we need to really celebrate that and show everybody what they’re capable of.”
I have a meme ….
With all the negative talk around the Melbourne Cup this year, it’s also good to remember that some horses do get to live out a long, happy life, enjoying carrots and love before finally being buried under their favourite tree. Exhibit A: Delta Blues, Japan’s first Melbourne Cup winner enjoying life at the Northern Farm and Northern Horse Park.
Sport thought …
Animal rights v racing industry: Never the Twain shall meet
“Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me.”
–Mark Twain, 1895