Hi all. It seems like awhile since the last discussion on this site. I hope you are all well.
Today, I would like to talk jumps racing and about what I see as a courageous decision announced last week by Racing Victoria, the governing principle racing authority in my home state of Victoria (South-East Australia) to ban all forms of horse races involving hurdles as at the conclusion of the 2010 season.
In in spite of genuine concerns voiced by some participants within the racing industry, I am inclined to agree with the decision.
Horse racing should not be banned outright. But animal welfare considerations dictate that the most hazardous elements associated with the sport should be curtailed. Given that jumps racing involves horse fatality rate of double that of traditional flat racing (see below), its discontinuation is warranted in spite of the significant amount of value that jumps racing adds to the sport and the industry.
Sure, jumps do add value to the racing experience …
To be sure, jumps racing does contribute a substantial amount of value to the sport, and things just won’t be the same without it.
Steeplechases have that extra sense of unpredictability about them which many punters find appealling. And for racegoers, daily programs involving one or two hurdle races have more variety than those consisting entirely of races on the flat.
… and their banning has a harsh impact …
There is alos no question that this latest move will involve considerable cost for a range of stakeholders associated with the sport:
• The racing industry
Hardest hit will be the industry itself.
Whilst the discontinuation of jumps racing may enhance the sport’s public image somewhat, I highly doubt that this will anywhere near compensate for the loss of direct revenue which will no doubt result.
Owners of steeplechase horses will be especially hard hit, not to mention jockeys and trainers who specialize in jumps.
• Regional towns.
Also hard hit will be the local economies within some regional towns.
The town of Warnambool, for instance, on the South West Coast of the state, is a case in point, where the famous three day racing carnival held each year in May, which brings in an estimated fifteen million Australian dollars (about $14m USD), and creates 576 local jobs (471 on course, 105 off-course) within the local area (refer article).
Without the premier event, the 137 year old Grand National Steeplechase, the popularity and viability of the entire carnival may be placed in jeapordy.
• Horses themselves.
Some trainers claim that many current competitors in jumps racing face the prospect of slaughter once the ban takes effect.
Trainers also claim that the ban may indeed result in more deaths per year than what it will save, as jumps racing provides an alternative to being put down from the point of view of those horses which are unable to make it in traditional thoroughbred racing.
(Not knowing a great deal about horse breeding, I am not really in a great position to comment, but I don’t really buy this argument.
Surely, there must be a better alternative than being put down for otherwise healthy horses which are not able to make it in racing)
… but animal welfare concerns should prevail
Despite all this, I feel that animal welfare considerations are sufficient to warrant the decision to discontinue jumps racing.
To be sure, horse racing is a dangerous sport, and accidents occur in all of its forms – not just jumps.
But steeplechases are exceptionally hazardous – too hazardous. A submission to a national senate enquiry in 1989 (see below) from the Australian Conference of Principle Racing Clubs estimated that approximately two per cent of all jumping horses are killed or destroyed as a result of horse racing accidents each year [refer PDF file (section 3.20)].
Whilst that figure may not necessarily seem particularly high, it is double the fatality rate quoted in the same submission for flat racing horses, which would appear to indicatethat jumps racing is about twice as hazardous as races on flat.
(These figures are twenty years old, but from what I understand, the death rate of jumps horses has not, at least in Australia, declined particularly significantly since these figures were quoted)
As I said earlier, horse racing should not be banned outright. Nevertheless, animal rights considerations do dictate that the most hazardous aspects of the sport should be curtailed.
Given the high fatility rate associated with steeplechases, that, I say with some regret, means that jumps racing should be stopped.
Over to you
Is jumps racing allowed in your state/country?
How would you describe attitudes toward jumps racing in your state/country?
Do you think jumps racing should be banned? Why/Why not?