opinion

"The Cliffsofmoher's death isn't the real tragedy of this year's horseracing."

Moments before the 2018 Melbourne Cup race was about to begin, four-year-old racehorse The Cliffsofmoher appeared agitated.

According to Seven commentator Richard Freedman, he was “melting like an ice-cream… really sweating up badly”.

Seconds into the race, as he approached the turn out of the straight for the first time, the horse ‘broke down,’ suffering a fractured right shoulder.

Veterinarians rushed to erect a tarp around the fallen horse, but not long after 3pm, amidst the Cup celebrations, it was confirmed that The Cliffsofmoher had been euthanised.

Unlike in previous years, when the death of racehorses at the Melbourne Cup has been reported as a side story, sometimes not until the day after the event, in 2018, the death of The Cliffsofmoher was the story.

Haunting images of the horse’s lame leg were everywhere. It was the ethical landmine we could no longer look away from.

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But while the horse’s fate is what has drawn the public’s attention towards the unsettling reality of horseracing, this death is far from the real tragedy of the billion dollar industry.

The Cliffsofmoher is one of over 100 horses to die on Australian racetracks in the last 12 months. One of dozens to show signs of distress, to have his leg go lame on the racetrack, and to collapse in front of a crowd.

His death is part of a much more complex and much sadder story.

One about horses who are forced to participate in jump racing, despite the statistical likelihood of violent injuries.

One about horses who are whipped to run faster, causing physical and psychological pain and increasing the chances of injury.

One about horses who are discarded when their racing career is over, and killed for dog meat.

One about horses who are raced before they’re skeletally mature, risking serious injury and premature death.

One about an industry that chooses not to collate and publish information about horse deaths. Instead, an independent body, the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, reports these statistics annually, shining a light on the culture of silence that exists around the treatment of these animals.

In their 2018 Death Watch report, the CPR commented that while the Melbourne Cup is the only day the average person hears about horse racing deaths, the industry takes a number of steps to prevent deaths of this nature becoming public knowledge.

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Last year, five-year-old Regal Monarch competed in race four at Flemington, but in the closing moments, he clipped the heels of a horse in front of him and had a sickening fall. He was taken away in an ambulance, and late on 7 November, it was announced that he had been euthanised. It was reported that the timing of this announcement, however, was chillingly strategic – with the horse allegedly dying before the Melbourne Cup was even run.

Regal Monarch after his fall. Image via Getty.

It's likely that the stories we don't see, and don't hear, are far worse than the ones we do.

Every three days, a horse dies on an Australian racetrack. The most common cause of death is catastrophic front limb injury, followed by catastrophic hind limb injury, but horses also die from a broken neck, a broken pelvis, a ruptured aorta and bleeds.

The Cliffsofmoher's death isn't the tragedy of this year's horseracing - it's one small, sadly unexceptional part. If we have genuine concerns about animal welfare, it can't start and end with the Melbourne Cup. We need to talk about the full, uncensored dark side of the racing industry: the whipping, the slaughter, the jump racing, and the racing of horses before they're physically mature.

We need to choose not to support the industry at all, not just one day a year.

Because The Cliffsofmoher, with his broken shoulder, and sickening helplessness, could have died on any other day. And none of us would have known.

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