Melbourne Cup deaths of Admire Rakti and Araldo need perspective

admin | 杭州桑拿
4 Dec 2018

Tragedy: Melbourne Cup favourite Admire Rakti died shortly after finishing last in the 3200m race. Picture: Getty Images►Hunter’s Cup glory

► Admire Rakti dies of ‘acute heart failure’

Where do horses go to die?

Mummify – one of the finest thoroughbreds to come out of the Freedman stable – was buried standing up, facing the east, as all warrior horses should.

He’d pulled up in third place in the Caulfield Cup in 2005 after fracturing a bone in his near foreleg.

The Freedmans did all they could over the next week to save him. They knew he wouldn’t race again. He’d been gelded, so there was no value at stud to be gained.

Ultimately, Mummify was euthanised and buried in a plot on the family’s farm on the Mornington Peninsula, right next to the great grey sprinter Schillaci.

As the dirt was shoveled in, the stable’s legion of strappers and handlers wiped tears from their face. Some tied ribbons and trinkets into the warrior horse’s mane as they struggled to say goodbye.

That is a story worth telling today as those who know little about racing get in the queue to criticise the sport following the tragic deaths of Melbourne Cup favourite Admire Rakti and Araldo.

It’s more than a sport in which greedy owners and trainers send horses out to be whipped within an inch of their lives in the pursuit of prizemoney and gambling windfalls.

Hard times: Racing Victoria chief steward Terry Bailey speaks to the media on Wednesday following the deaths of Araldo and Admire Rakti. Picture: Getty Images

Richard Freedman could sense the impending storm on Wednesday morning when he said: “Today will see those with little knowledge and even less perspective take a free kick at racing. Our biggest threat is overreacting to them.”

Doubtless, the deaths are a public relations disaster for the Victoria Racing Club. The incidents have given the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses untold ammunition to discredit the racing fraternity and roll out sensational death counts of horses on the track.

Without dismissing the tragedy of these deaths and the manner in which they occurred, it’s important right now to remember racing people don’t merely consider their horses as commodities.

Most of them consider their horses to be family.

Of the countless stories I’ve written on thoroughbreds over the years – from cheap horses stabled at Cessnock to So You Think sitting pretty in Bart Cummings’ stables near Flemington – what I always notice is how well the animal is cared for.

A few years ago, I saw Queanbeyean taxi driver Joe Janiak hugging Takeover Target in the stables at Randwick like they were brothers.

Cummings is renowned for having the cleanest stables in the game. The day I visited Saintly Place the day before the 2010 Mackinnon Stakes, So You Think looked as happy in his box as a high roller in the Mahogany Room at Crown Casino.

Handlers, strappers, trainers and foremen – anyone who has daily contact with the horse – treat them with the utmost care and respect.

When tragedy strikes, these are the ones who feel it the most.

Last year, after the Aga Khan’s Verema had died after snapping a bone in her leg during the Melbourne Cup, his young strapper was inconsolable in the weighing room.

He didn’t speak English, but he grabbed my notepad and, with tears rolling down his face, he scribbled his name down.He wanted his name in the story, because he was proud to be associated with the horse.

To that end, every person who is involved in racing remains in deep shock about what happened at Flemington on Tuesday.

What happened to Araldo, they said, was a freak accident that could happen anywhere in the world wherever there is a horse, a fence and a human.

What happened to the favourite Admire Rakti, they said, was mystifying to even the most seasoned veterans.

There was speculation the horse was off before the race, but he had been vetted and cleared to run. Those who saw him up close report that he looked fine. They weren’t dissuaded from backing him.

It’s been reported that his jockey, Zac Purton, had concerns about the hard condition of the track, but there’s no way the surface killed the Japanese raider. He’s raced on similar surfaces before.

Racing Victoria’s chief vet Dr Brian Stewart said on Wednesday morning Admire Rakti’s death was “very rare”. Instead, it’s being used by racing’s detractors to say it is representative of the industry.

Seemingly within minutes after the death of these two horses, anti-racing campaigner Ward Young told anyone who would listen that more than a hundred horses had died on Australian tracks in the past year.

“That is one horse being killed every 2.9 days!” Young was quoted, well, everywhere.h

The stat went viral on social media.

Young conveniently omitted those deaths were from 189,259 starters in 19,511 races. That’s a fatality rate of 0.07 per cent.

So, in the face of two Cup day tragedies, a deep breath and perspective is needed.

Maybe listen to what Melbourne trainer Peter Moody had to say last week. Moody, remember, put the welfare of Black Caviar so far ahead of himself during her career it often came to the detriment of his own health.

“At the end of the day, I’m the first to let others entering the sport, both new and old, know – don’t underestimate the horse,” he wrote in an open letter last week. “Understand it’s their life that is supporting your own. And always make sure they come first.”

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