Sport 'We' should act on horse racing cruelty, Bruce McAvaney says, but why hadn't 'we' acted already?

22:25  20 october  2019
22:25  20 october  2019 Source:   msn.com

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In Melbourne and Sydney champagne was gulped, horses were raced, an obscene amount of money was won and lost and partygoers staggered home, some of them clutching expensive stilettos.

The now-competing Spring carnivals continued as they always do. Not-quite-but-very-nearly oblivious to the shame that preceded the day's racing.

The ABC's 7.30 report about the unfathomably cruel treatment of what has been euphemistically called "thoroughbred wastage" — more honestly described as the ruthless extermination of horses not fast enough to fit their job description — should have hovered like a black cloud.

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But like a kindergarten teacher in a room full of sniffling four-year-olds, racing has built a strong immune system. In racing's case the resistance is to scandal rather than coughs and sneezes.

Doping, jiggering, substitution rackets and even the uneasy feeling that surrounds the feel-good movie Ride Like a Girl when the actor playing Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Darren Weir, now charged with multiple offences, appears on the big screen.

It should cause consternation. But horse racing is a Teflon sport. Nothing seems to stick.

You could even argue some of horse racing's enduring appeal lies in its whiff of the underworld — "colourful racing identities", crusty trainers and hard-bitten jockeys all providing old-school intrigue in a now mostly beige professional sporting landscape.

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Zac Purton (Horse Racing) $1.4m © Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images Zac Purton (Horse Racing) $1.4m

Yet surely the horrendous scenes shown by the ABC of horses bred to run being treated with heartbreaking cruelty should be a step too far. Even for an industry with such a chequered history.

Predictably there has been a well-rehearsed and tightly scripted response from racing identities and vested interests.

On Seven's racing coverage on Saturday, veteran broadcaster Bruce McAvaney addressed the elephant in the room — or, more appropriately, the thoroughbred in the meat grinder — with a mostly thoughtful appraisal.

McAvaney acknowledged that as a small-time owner the video had made him feel ashamed, that it was "horrifying to watch" and we had suddenly reached a "critical time for the racing industry"

"So for the sake of the future, we need to shine a spotlight on whatever might be lurking in the shadows and take action right now," McAvaney concluded.

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Yet one word jarred — we. This was an allusion to those such as the official racing station Seven and others making a profit off an industry that now stands condemned for creating — and in some cases ignoring — incredible suffering.

"We" should act McAvaney was saying. But why hadn't "we" acted already?

One of the most contemptible elements of this scandal is that it has taken animal rights activists cooperating with the ABC to expose the ongoing cruelty taking place under the noses of industry insiders.

In some cases, these are the same people who promote the idea that only "racing people" have the horses' best interests at heart.

This is the defence commonly offered when a fatigued horse breaks a leg trying to jump a hurdle — "the do-gooders only turn up to protest. We're the ones looking after these horses all the time."

In the majority of cases this is no doubt true. But surely the inhuman practices that have occurred cannot have gone unnoticed by every supposedly reputable owner and trainer.

But where are the whistle-blowers? How can you trust an industry that can't see beyond the end of its own nose to clean up this mess?

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How can you assume, for example, that NSW Racing boss Peter V'Landys will act assertively when his initial response to the nauseating revelations of abuse was that the abattoir was not in NSW?

This is the obvious problem with racing, more than any other sport. Self-interest comes first, second, third and if you're still live in the quaddie, it is still going strong in the fourth leg.

You could hear this in the tone of those reflexively defensive race track diehards whose only response to such abject cruelty was to question the timing of the 7.30 report.

"They're just showing this video now because they know they will get more attention," they whined and tweeted and groaned.

Never mind that corporate bookmakers seize on the same seasonal interest to lure more punters, or that media outlets with lucrative racing contracts use the racing carnivals to draw dubious front-page links between models and horses to glamorize the gambling industry at this time of year.

Almost everything goes when in horse racing promotion, which is partly why a sense of common decency so easily goes astray.

Another reason is that's racings shallow seasonal moment in the spotlight creates only a wafer-thin connection between those who fill the usually empty grandstands during the carnivals and the industry itself.

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A few days of tippling and social puffery with rent-a-crowd C-listers in a marquee or rolling around drunk on the public lawn in a Smurf costume hardly creates the kind of emotional investment that leads to a deeper appreciation — or deeper scrutiny — of the sport.

Relatively minor "scandals" in the various football codes occupy front pages for weeks. But just as racegoers turn up once a year to party and punt, you wonder if people will view the ABC footage, express their genuine horror and then move on quickly to the next day's story.

Despite McAvaney's plea, the one thing that cannot be relied upon is harsh and assertive self-regulation.

On the ABC's Insiders, Federal Attorney General Christian Porter described the video of thoroughbreds being tortured as "astonishingly terrible behaviour".

It is thus beholden upon states and even the Federal Government to act.

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Because it is clear too many in racing only see dollar signs when considering horses — and carnival-goers often don't see a horse at all.

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