explainer

The tragic reason why the life of the Melbourne Cup horse had to end after its injury.

In a tragic end to yesterday’s 2018 Melbourne Cup, The CliffsofMoher was put down just minutes after running in the race.

According to the RSPCA Australia, the horse suffered a fractured right shoulder during the first 600 metres of the race and was euthanised on the track.

The CliffsofMoher is the sixth horse to die as a result of the Melbourne Cup since 2013. The RSPCA Australia says this statistic highlights the very real risks to horses from racing.

But why do injured race horses so regularly need to be put down? Celebrity vet Dr Chris Brown shared the reason on his Facebook page, writing that because of a horse’s build, fractures are incredibly hard to heal.

“Sure, horses are bred for speed. Like a formula one car, they have massive engines (heart, lungs and muscles) built around a light frame,” Dr Brown wrote.

“But if the horse has a fatal flaw, it’s those long leg bones. Despite carrying over 500kg in weight at any one time, they’re surprisingly light and thin. The sad result being that if forces come from a strange angle (from a knock or a stumble) or a stress fracture is already present, the bone doesn’t just gently break, it tragically explodes. Multiple, misshapen bone fragments are then left behind. Fragments that then can’t be pinned or plated back into place.”

The other issue, Dr Brown explained, is that horses are unable to cope on just three legs while their fourth heals, unlike other animals like cats and dogs.

“That big body of theirs becomes susceptible to circulation problems and pressure sores if they’re doing anything but standing on all four legs with their weight evenly supported.”

The CliffsofMoher’s trainer Aidan O’Brien said following the race that he was relieved jockey Ryan Moore was unharmed.

“It’s very sad. It could have been worse, Ryan [Moore] could have taken a fall off him, someone could have been seriously injured,” O’Brien said.

People were quick to point out that his statement was incorrect: Someone was more than “seriously injured” – The CliffsofMoher, who died.

In the 12 months from 1 August 2017 to 31 July 2018, 119 horses died on Australian racetracks: that’s one every three days, according to a report by the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses.

The CliffsofMoher was just five years of age. According to the RSPCA, the life expectancy of a horse is 25-30 years.

As Dr Brown wrote, he was gone too soon.

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