People universally consider horses majestic creatures, and this is nothing short of the truth – they are gracious and elegant, smart and devoted, powerful and perseverant. Throughout human history, man has used them for a host of different purposes: as trusted work assets in agriculture and industry, for various entertainment and skill performances in circuses and parades, all the way to the grim art of war. They have proven to be so invaluable to man that there are lines of horse products and supplements that represent nearly an industry of their own – equine grooming, performance substances, even shampoos and conditioners.
In the world of today, however, they are usually seen demonstrating their lightning-fast sprinting ability on numerous hippodromes – a type of venue that may evoke a sentiment of grandeur, style and historical significance, but for the horses it means something radically different. These magnificent animals have become the gladiators of these arenas, some of them even laying down their lives as the ultimate cost. This brings up the key question: is horse racing a fundamentally flawed discipline and can it change?
The most recent event which polarized fans of equine races is undoubtedly the 2014 Melbourne Cup, a much renowned event in the domain of Australian horse racing. Prior to the showdown, the 2014 Caulfield Cup winner, Japan’s Admire Rakti jockeyed by Zar Purton, was heavily favoured at 6-1.
As the gates opened and the sprint exploded, the crowd was sizzling with anticipation. Then, somewhere from the midfield, a new champion stormed the field, bearing the name Protectionist. The German-bred stallion, navigated by the disciplined and often tight-lipped Ryan Moore, left the competition in a cloud of dust and rushed the finish line, captivating the hearts of racing enthusiasts and admirers in a flash and restoring fame to this lasting race. A victory for the ages.
Moore’s strong hand and clear mind easily led the powerful German breed to victory, courtesy of the jockey, but also greatly owing to the horse’s trainer, Andreas Wohler. Many have interpreted this dominant triumph to be a clear sign of a new wave of German racing stallions and their dedicated, hard-working training methods. The new champion, Protectionist, also has quite a pedigree, coming from the German winner-siring Monson, and also drawing from the French formlines behind recent winners Americain and Dunaden.
However, Protectionist’s “blitzkrieg” was unfortunately not the singular highlight of this race. The favourite, Admire Rakti, painfully limped across the finish line, coming in last and almost forgotten. Jockey Zac Purton’s once tremendous winner horse was visibly distressed, fatigued and bone-wearied and tragically succumbed to exhaustion only twenty five minutes after the race, case of death pending official autopsy.
Furthermore, the downfall of the Japanese favourite wasn’t the only shattering and soul-crushing event at the tracks. Another horse, the outsider Araldo, was taken into surgery after breaking its cannon bone. Allegedly, the horse was aggravated by a spectator waving an Australian flag, which made the animal kick the fence and cast a horrible shadow over its future – racing horses are often retired after surgery, if not worse. Even last year, the French Verema had to be put down following a fracture to its right foreleg.
However, not everything regarding this event is marred by tragedy, either. There have been a few hopeful prospects coming from different sides, mainly in the form of humbleness and class displayed by the silent victor Ryan Moore, who dedicated the triumph to family values and his children, keeping it simple and honest in the light of a great win.
Another major surprise was the lasting racing paragon, the old-timer Red Cadeaux, who came in second and looked about as carefree as a foal, cementing its status as a living Flemington horse racing legend.
The painful reality is still that these winged racetrack horses cannot outrun the reaper, but many feel it is man’s prerogative to choose how and when this death comes, and this sport will surely see its fair share of debate on how to treat these amazing animals. If the horse racing domain is indeed populated with people who care for horses, it will be their duty to be the vocal community that will drive change in this beloved discipline.
Image credit: Wikipedia