Incident-free Melbourne Cup fuels theory about spate of horse deaths

·Sports Editor
·4-min read
The CliffsofMoher, pictured here after an incident in the 2018 Melbourne Cup.
The CliffsofMoher was euthanised after an incident in the 2018 Melbourne Cup. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

In the aftermath of a drama-free 2021 Melbourne Cup, a theory about the effects of the great race on international horses appears to ring true.

Anthony Van Dyck’s death in the race that stops the nation last year was the seventh time a horse died on Cup day in the last eight years.

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The Irish horse joined Cliffsofmoher (2018), Regal Monarch (2016), Red Cadeaux (2015), Admire Rakti (2014), Araldo (2014) and Verema (2013) as recent casualties of the Melbourne Cup.

Troublingly, all seven horses were from overseas, with the last Australian horse to die on Cup day coming way back in 1979.

This year there were only two international horses in the great race - Spanish Mission from America and Irish champion Twilight Payment - largely due to Covid-19 and international travel restrictions.

Some may say it was no coincidence that none of the horses suffered serious injuries or died.

Pre-race favourite Incentivise suffered a swollen leg while finishing second, but the 2021 race was one of the most drama-free in years.

Was it because of the lack of international horses?

Speaking in the wake of Anthony Van Dyck's death last year, commentator Gerard Whateley said the spate of overseas horses dying in the Melbourne Cup could no longer be ignored.

“There’s not a scientist or mathematician in the world that wouldn’t recognise this as a cluster. It’s as upsetting as it is confronting and it’s worse than that," he said.

“29 horses arrived in Australia from overseas to contest this year’s Spring Carnival, three are dead and at least two others have suffered career-ending injuries. That’s a frightening toll.

James McDonald, pictured here riding Verry Elleegant to victory in the 2021 Melbourne Cup.
James McDonald rides Verry Elleegant to victory in the 2021 Melbourne Cup. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

“Dead horses were never part of the Melbourne Cup. If they were, the race would never have won its way into our national affection.

“So I want to be really clear about this and I will make no effort to disguise my anger and I will make no apology to those who will be affronted, the spate of deaths in recent Melbourne Cups is a national disgrace and is now beyond the point of crisis.”

In 2019, renowned trainer Richard Friedman said about international horses: “They’ve been thick on the ground in Australia since about 2012.

“Of the last six horses that have come to a catastrophic injury in a Melbourne Cup, all six of them were imported horses.

“Bringing them has increased the visibility of those injuries, because it has happened to them. It’s not a good thing and they are at the centre of that.”

Regal Monarch, pictured here on Melbourne Cup day in 2016.
Regal Monarch died after a nasty fall on Melbourne Cup day in 2016. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Unprecedented precautions implemented for 2021 race

New Racing Victoria veterinary protocols were introduced this year to try and prevent the spate of devastating injuries.

The 35 acceptors were required to undergo a CT scan to check the horse's overall health and detect any potential injuries prior to the race.

The Werribee-based CT scanner broke down with only 19 of the 35 acceptors having completed the process, but an 'unprecedented' number of scans and checks were carried out to ensure all horses were fully fit to run in the 3200m race.

"All Melbourne Cup acceptors will still be subjected to increased and unprecedented veterinary scrutiny using alternative diagnostic imaging at U-Vet before being cleared to start in next Tuesday’s race," Racing Victoria general manager of integrity Jamie Stier said.

Two horses were ruled out thanks to the new policy, with the Danny O'Brien-trained Young Werther knocked back, as was Harpo Marx.

Delphi and Future Score were also forced to undergo last-minute checks on the morning of the race, with the latter ruled out as a result.

The increased precautions certainly seem to be paying off, but only time will tell the full story when the international raiders are allowed back into Australia for future Melbourne Cups.

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