Horse Racing: Is This the World's Most Dangerous Sport? The Melbourne Cup
The Sport of Kings
Horse racing, often called "The Sport Of Kings" has probably the most glamorous image of all so-called animal 'sports'. Such is the allure of horse racing that major race days such as the Melbourne Cup are even 'celebrated' with public holidays.
Socialites spend thousands of dollars on designer outfits, outrageous hats, and the opportunity to mingle with other famous names. Millions of dollars are gambled on the outcome of races without any thought to how dangerous the sport really is for both horse and jockey.
The Melbourne Cup ("The Race that Stops A Nation")
With the 2013 Melbourne Cup having just been run and won by the gallant 6 year old stallion and favorite Fiorente, under a masterful ride by jockey Damien Oliver, and skillfully trained by Gay Waterhouse (now the first woman to train a Melbourne Cup winner), the stage was set for the presentation ceremony. However a much darker and sadder event was taking place at that very moment, and being virtually ignored by the media. Only those who had been watching the race closely would have noticed one of the horses near the tail of the field suddenly be pulled up approaching the 2000 metre mark.
As the much coveted cup was being presented, speeches given, and congratulations made to and by the winning owners, trainer, and jockey, the ominous green screens were being placed around the stricken horse .The name 'Verema' was already trending on Twitter and Facebook as those concerned enquired about the horses condition. Unfortunately Verema had fractured its cannon bone and was euthanised as thousands cheered the cup presentation.
Verema was a 5 year old French mare, owned and bred by His Highness Aga Khan of Jordan and trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre who also trained the winners of this race in 2010 and 2011, Americain and Dunaden.
The Melbourne Cup has become the best staying handicap in the world and Verema had been prepared to run the two miles. Of her past nine runs, eight had been at 3000m or above and she had hit form at the right time, winning her past two.
Verema was third in the Gold Cup over 3200 metres in Dubai. Then in her most recent outings in France she won the group 2 Prix De Nieuil at Longchamp 2800m before winning the Prix Kergorlay at Deauville over 2800m.
Her trainer stated the day before the Melbourne Cup, "She's tough and mature and ready for this race. We have got here with the right weight, which is also important. She really reminds me of Dunaden. In some ways they both have that acceleration at the end of races."
Melbourne Cup Fatalities?
Even though I have always been a fan of horse racing, this tragic event got me thinking. I could remember two other fatalities happening to Melbourne Cup runners in the time I have been following the race:
In 1979 Melbourne Cup favourite Dulcify was put down after breaking its pelvis during the race.
Then in 1998 the Singapore-trained horse Three Crowns was put down after shattering a leg in the Melbourne Cup of that year. Three Crowns had lead the field for most of the race but broke down and was swamped by the pack in the final stages.
I decided to try to research all Melbourne Cup deaths since the very first running of the race. Well the significant word here is 'try', I couldn't find a list anywhere of Melbourne Cup fatalities. Oh there are an abundance of facts and statistics concerning Australia's richest and most famous race. Everything it seems other than what I was looking for.
- The first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861 during the Victorian gold rush. many successful gold-diggers who had become rich, enjoyed wagering some of their new found wealth on the race at Flemington. It was won by Archer, who was also successful the following year.
- There have been six grey winners
- There have been five multiple winners
- Most wins by one trainer is 12: Bart Cummings
- Youngest winning jockey: Peter St Albans on briseis in 1876. He was just 12 years, 11 months, 23 days old.
- Biggest winning margin: 8 lengths, by Archer in 1862, and Rain lover in 1968.
- Stallions have won the most cups at 65, followed by geldings 50, Colts 21, mares 13, and Fillies 3.
The list goes on, but no mention of the number of fatalities, either of horse or jockey.
Horrific Horse Racing Falls
Australian Jockey Deaths per Decade
These are only deaths resulting from accidents on the track or in training.
1840 - 1849 1
1850 - 1859 1
1860 - 1869 0
1870 - 1879 3
1880 - 1889 17
1890 - 1899 32
1900 - 1909 25
1910 - 1919 21
1920 - 1929 32
1930 - 1939 50
1940 - 1949 28
1950 - 1959 29
1960 - 1969 16
1970 - 1979 10
1980 - 1989 17
1990 - 1999 12
2000 - 2009 9
2010 - 2013 1
When I had no luck finding stats on Melbourne Cup fatalities, I decided to expand my search.
The only record of death of Australian based horses that I could find was 'Australia's Fallen Racehorses- In Honour Of The Fallen'. This site however only gives statistics from 2008 to 2010 the results of which are as follows:
- 2010 - 83 deaths
- 2009 - 133 deaths
- 2008 - 586 deaths
From these figures at least, it appears that the number of fatalities is falling substantially each year.
I then wondered what percentage of these deaths may have resulted from accidents sustained during jumps racing (hurdles and steeplechases) because this form of racing is the most dangerous of all. I found that in Australia, only two states still allow jumps racing, Victoria and South Australia. In this form of racing, every year horses fall, sustain horrible injuries and are killed in a 'sport' these governments deem as acceptable in the name of 'spectacular' entertainment.
Apart from the numbers listed below, many other horses are injured on the training tracks or lack the ability to win races. These horses are rarely retired to the spelling yard or stud, instead being sent to the abattoir or knackery. In the corresponding years to those above, this was the number of 'jumps' related deaths:
- 2010 - 5
- 2009 - 13
- 2008 - 15
Once again the number is decreasing, with the current year 2013 having only four fatalities. This only accounts for a small number of the overall deaths, but it must be pointed out that there are far less jumps races held in Australia than flat races.
Although mainly concerned with Australian statistics, on digging further I found a Horse Racing Death Register on Betfair which shows a total of 668 race horses having died (other than natural causes) in the UK and Ireland, since January 2011. Of these 544 actually died on the track during races, but without going through each case individually I don't know how many of these were jumps related.
To put in context why the organizers and sponsors, Victoria Racing Club, the Victorian and Australian Governments may not want to tarnish the reputation of Australia's greatest race by publicly making available statistics of Melbourne Cup related deaths one may have to look at the amount of tourism and local dollars it attracts.
Then there is the huge entry fees paid by owners to actually nominate horses for the race, of which only 24 are finally accepted to start. To give you some idea of just how much the Melbourne Cup must generate each year, let's look at a breakdown of the prize money for this years race 2013.
With assistance from the Emirates Airlines (major sponsor), and others, the Melbourne Cup of 2013 offered winning prize money totaling $6 million AUD plus $175,000 in trophies.
This maintains the Melbourne Cup’s status as the world’s richest handicap race, and the single richest held on turf.
To help appreciate the economics of winning the Melbourne Cup only two races in the world currently offer more prize money, the Dubai World Cup ($10,000,000 US)on a synthetic track, and the Japan Cup ($6,700,000 US)on grass.
2013 Prize Money
First:$3,600,000, Second:$900,000, Third:$450,000, Fourth:$250,000,Fifth:$175,000, Sixth:$125,000, Seventh:$125,000, Eighth:$125,000, Ninth:$125,000, Tenth:$125,000
Update: 2014 Melbourne Cup:Tragedy Strikes Again
The 2014 Melbourne Cup was run on Tuesday 4th November. Once again tragedy strikes. After brilliantly winning the major lead up race 'The Caulfield Cup" two weeks ago champion Japanese stayer Admire Rakti (and already winner of over $5 million) was sent out popular favourite for the Melbourne Cup.
After running in second place on a hot pace for the first half of the race Admire Rakti began to slowly drop out and at the finish line came in last. Soon after being taken back to the stalls the favourite collapsed and died. An autopsy is being conducted to determine the cause of death.
To add further to the tragic events of the 2014 Cup Araldo which finished seventh, was spooked by a child waving an Australian flag while being led away after the race, lashing out and kicking a running rail and fracturing his leg. Araldo had been purchased from Germany for $500,000. Ironically this years dominant winner Protectionist is German owned and trained.
The wonderful victory by a talented horse was unfortunately overshadowed by these other sad events. Nine year old Red Cadeaux was gallant in defeat, running second in the cup for the third consecutive year.
"I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world."— Michelle Payne (after her win in the Melbourne Cup)
Update:2015 Melbourne Cup
The 2015 Melbourne Cup was a fairytale story. The winner Prince of Penzance (trained by Darren Weir) started at odds of 100-1 (I backed it!) and was ridden by Michelle Payne, only the 4th female jockey to ever ride in the race and the first to win it in its 155 year history and was coincidentally wearing the colours of the suffragette movement ( purple, green and white). A well as that Stevie Payne (Michelle's youngest brother) was the horse's strapper and has Downs Syndrome. Stevie also drew the number one barrier position for the horse.
Michelle is the youngest child of ten, and eight of her siblings became jockeys. Their mother Mary was killed in a car accident when Michelle was only six months old and all children had to be raised by their father Paddy who was a jockey and trainer, aided by his eldest daughter Bridget who was then 16. Michelle dreamt of being a winning jockey as a child, and at aged seven, told friends she would one day win the Melbourne Cup.
Michelle has experienced some trying moments in her career, suffering a near-fatal fall in 2004 that caused her to fracture her skull and have bruising on the brain. Her father Paddy encouraged her to give up racing after that but Michelle kept riding. Then another tragedy struck the Payne family when sister Bridget suffered a heart attack six months after a fall left her in an induced coma.
Since then Michelle has taken some dangerous falls including one in which she suffered broken ribs and fractures to four vertebrae but has always made it back on the horse.
Aside from this fairytale win there was another tragedy in the 2015 Cup. Three times second placegetter, the now 10 year old Red Cadeaux from Great Britain, broke down and failed to finish the race. Fortunately he didn't face the same sad fate as previous horses that have broken down in the race. His leg was operated on and his life saved. He has now of course been retired to the "Living Legends" retirement facility near Melbourne, Australia
What sport do you consider the most dangerous?
I have not given up on trying to find factual statistics on Melbourne Cup related deaths, and if I succeed will add those statistics to this hub. But despite this, I feel that the above figures reveal that indeed the horse racing industry/sport can be classified as one of the most dangerous sports that we, both human and animal, engage in. Do you agree? (If any one has statistics to prove there are more deaths in another mainstream sport I would love to hear about it. Just include the details in your comments, thanks).
Other Hubs On Horse Racing.
- Winning Ways
Some very simple tips for the social punter. Taking the science out of betting, and treating it all as just a numbers game. Toss out the form guides and give these suggestions a try for a few months.
© 2013 John Hansen