Today is the 2020 Melbourne Cup. These are the facts about horseracing in Australia.

At 3:00pm on the first Tuesday of November every year, Australia’s most famous race is held. 

Melbourne Cup is, traditionally, known as the race that stops the nation. More recently, though, it is the race that divides the nation.

Every year, animal activists use the race to remind Australians of the conditions of horseracing and the fatalities that frequently occur. Undoubtedly, the chorus of condemnation against the horseracing industry grows louder each year. 

Whilst defendants of the industry will claim racehorses have good lives, animal activists say they are abused from young ages and, often, mercilessly killed when they are no longer commercially viable. 

Below, we have collated the facts about the state of the horseracing industry in 2020. 

Deaths in horseracing.

From the period between August 1 2019 to July 31 2020, 116 horses died in Australia on the track or soon after racing, according to the annual Deathwatch report. This equates to about one death every three days. Of these deaths, 45 of the horses had been raced as a two-year-old. 

The Melbourne Cup specifically has witnessed six deaths in the past seven years.

In 2013, four-year-old Verema snapped a bone in her lower leg, about 2000 metres in. A green tarp was erected and Verema was euthanised.

In 2014, Admire Rakti dropped dead in his stall following the race. Not long afterwards, another horse, Araldo, was euthanised after sustaining a broken leg.

Racehorse Admire Rakti during the Melbourne Cup race before its death. Image: Getty. 


In 2015, Red Cadeaux broke a bone in his front left leg. He died two weeks later from surgery complications.

Then, in 2017, Regal Monarch fell mid-race and passed away that evening.

In 2018, Cliffsofmoher broke his shoulder and was euthanised on the track, becoming the sixth horse in six years to die during the Melbourne Cup.

Last year, no horse died, however Rostropovich was badly injured before being taken to a nearby vet for treatment. He is still being rehabilitated. 

Injuries in horseracing.

There is a high prevalence of injuries among racehorses. A 2015 University of Melbourne research paper found that 50 per cent of race horses in Australia have blood in their windpipe, while 90 per cent had blood in their lungs. Bleeding is particularly hard to diagnose because only one per cent of horses will show visible signs of bleeding. 

This past racing year, 483 horses in Australia suffered nose bleeds while being raced, according to the Deathwatch report

The Melbourne Cup race in 2019. Image: Getty. 

Research published in the journal Preventative Veterinary Medicine states racing a two year old horse puts it at greater risk of injury, because the horse's skeletal system is still immature. In Australia, racing two-year-old horses is commonplace. Racing Victoria states: "Typically a thoroughbred's racing career starts at the age of two."


The RSPCA, an animal welfare organisation, highlights this danger, stating: "The evidence indicates that low-grade injuries and disease occur at a high rate during the training and racing of two-year-olds in Australia, with 85% of horses reported as suffering at least one incident of injury or disease."

Further to this, another Australian study found that up to 70 per cent of thoroughbred race horses have "bone bruising, or joint surface collapse of the cannon bone and condylar fractures".

Racehorses sent to abattoirs.

Racing Australia claims less than one per cent of race horses are sent to abattoirs upon retiring (about 34 horses). The RSPCA, however, states about 9000 horses are slaughtered in abattoirs each year in Australia. 

Last year, the ABC’s 7.30 indeed revealed that thousands of healthy thoroughbred race horses were being shipped to their deaths at abattoirs where they were being killed for human consumption. 

Watch a snippet of ABC’s investigation into the racing industry. Post continues after video.

Video via ABC

At a Queensland facility, 300 racehorses were killed in 22 days. In graphic vision, many of the horses in the ABC investigation were abused by abattoir workers — whipped, kicked and punched, and electric prods used on their genitalia.

In Australia, it is not illegal to slaughter racehorses. However, it is against the policy of Racing NSW, which require all retired racehorses to be rehomed. Racing Victoria does not make this stipulation, with RV chairman Brian Kruger stating this would "drive the problem underground and will not solve the problem". 


Following the ABC’s investigation, Racing Victoria announced a $25 million equine welfare initiative that will deliver more post-racing opportunities and audits on the industry. Queensland also launched an independent investigation into its state's practices, and published the results earlier this year, making 37 recommendations to reduce horse slaughter. 

The economics of horse racing.

The 2020 Melbourne Cup trophy. Image: Getty. 

According to a 2019 report by AgriFutures, the thoroughbred breeding industry is worth over $1.16 billion per annum to the Australian economy. It employs nearly 8000 people, especially in rural and regional areas. 

Nearly four million Australians place bets on racing at least once a year, according to the Australian Government

In 2015, nearly one million Australians gambled regularly on either horse or dog racing, with the average regular race bettor spending $179 in a typical month - amounting to $2,148 over the year.

In 2016, Flemington reported that Australians wagered $657 million over the course of the four-day Melbourne Cup carnival. 

Feature image: Getty/AAP. 

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