November 04, 2020

Why is the Melbourne Cup so dangerous?

Why is the Melbourne Cup so dangerous?
Dr. Chris Brown

It’s hard not to be moved by another loss of life in Australia’s so called ‘great race’. Four year old stallion, Anthony Van Dyck, suffered a sudden fracture to his fetlock (lower leg) in the home straight and was euthanised soon after.

This horse is the sixth loss of life in the Melbourne Cup since 2013. It’s unacceptable and heartbreaking by any measure. Statistically, it now ranks as one of the most dangerous sporting events in the world. So naturally, the question has to be, why this is happening?

For starters, at 3200m the Melbourne Cup is a long race. Most horses running have rarely (if ever) raced over this distance. Add to that, the fact many of the highly fancied horses like Anthony Van Dyck, are made to carry heavy weights as a handicap to make it a more even race. This year, Anthony Van Dyck was carrying the largest weight in the race at 58.5kg.

Another factor seems to be the lead up to the races. Remarkably, ALL of the horses that have died in the race have been international horses. There’s a widely held belief that the legs of horses from the UK and Europe that are used to softer ground, struggle on the harder, drier Australian turf. The suspicion is the impact of the harder ground leads to microscopic stress fractures in the legs of these international horses in the lead up to the Melbourne Cup. These pre-existing weak points in their bones then fail spectacularly and tragically while they sprint and jostle for track position during the intensely long 3200m race. Already stressed bones are probably not aided by the use of a whip over the final stages of the race.

Whatever the cause, as an animal loving nation we need to be making changes to save the legs and the lives of these horses that clearly deserve better...

RIP Anthony Van Dyck

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