Troy Maguire

Horse racing – Gambling with horses’ lives

horse racing

After a horrific end to “The race that stops the nation”, Troy Maguire discusses horse racing and animal cruelty, and more importantly, who should take responsibility when tragedy strikes…


In the lead up to this year’s racing season I heard a lot of ads on the radio (I don’t watch much TV) urging punters to indulge their habit while simultaneously instructing them to “gamble responsibly”.

Needless to say, this immediately set off my bullshit-detector.

Gamble: take risky action in the hope of a desired result
Responsible: having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action


If that’s not an oxymoron, I don’t know what is.

Is engaging in unprotected sex, despite the risk of contracting or transmitting an STI, responsible behaviour? What about driving without a seatbelt or under the influence of intoxicants? Is scaring the shit out of 500kg animals and hoping they don’t snap their toothpick legs responsible?

Is the life of a horse worth betting on?

In his memoir Bypass, Michael McGirr observed that licensed clubs, “which dance to the tune of gaming machines” are the “abattoirs of the human spirit”.

Could starting gates be considered the slot-machines of death?

After coming in at last place in the “great race”, Caulfield Cup champion and Melbourne Cup favourite, Admire Rakti collapsed and died. Verema was euthanised at last year’s Melbourne Cup after shattering her cannon bone. Having suffered a similar injury, Araldo has met with the same fate. Going by this track record, it would seem punters aren’t just gambling their hard-earned cash, but the lives of the animals that are exploited to accommodate their addiction.

How can the supporters of horse racing defend the “sport”? Are these unnecessary deaths chalked up to an occupational hazard? Does the reward outweigh the risk? Is it a matter of intent?

Obviously, these deaths were accidental, but then again, how accidental is “accidental” when one is aware of what’s at stake? Surely one has to assume some level of culpability whenever a tragedy of this nature occurs?

You can’t gamble responsibly.

As a part-time carnivore, albeit one who consumes free-range eggs, and “happy” pigs, it’s difficult to broach this subject without seeming a hypocrite (to some degree at least). Indeed, while I have no love for horse racing, it’s impossible to deal in absolutes where animal rights are concerned. Field animals die en masse during harvesting“organic” farmers still use pesticides, albeit “non-synthetic” types , and the swim-bladders of fish have beer on-tap.

So despite their best intentions, even the most conscientious of vegans are not without blood on their hands. When meat-eaters such as myself slam horseracing, are we justified in doing so because using animals for fuel is a lesser evil than using them for “entertainment” (discounting those whom “play with their food”, of course)? It’s no secret that whatever nutritional benefits animal products provide can be easily obtained more ethically elsewhere, but a boycott of horseracing is far easier than a complete dietary overhaul. Is decrying horse racing simply a matter of convenience and/or laziness since it requires nothing of us except vitriolic Facebook posts or an article on The Big Smoke?

When pigs, sheep, cattle and horses meet their end due to human negligence or in circumstances that are considered particularly heinous by “western standards”, the public backlash is severe. Is it because we can actually hear the suffering of these animals? Does the squeal of pigs, and the whinnying of distressed horses act as auditory cues that recall the sound of human suffering? Have we been conditioned to care more about “cute” animals because we spent our childhoods watching anthropomorphised cartoon characters on TV? Is it that we see the big, disapproving doe-eyes of Bambi’s mum when we bite into a cut of veal and hear Porky Pig stutter “that’s all folks” as we fry up rashers of bacon? When a fly stops buzzing after we unload an aerosol can in its face, however, we do not give its demise a second thought.

So, by what yardstick do we measure the value of a certain animal’s life?

Disney has a lot to answer for.

I imagine this all sounds very naïve (and perhaps slightly off-point), but the mere suggestion that horse racing should be banned is even more so. Punters, owners, trainers, breeders, and jockeys – the list goes on. Horse racing is a lucrative business. In fact, it’s a billion-dollar industry. Indeed, with a public holiday observed in its “honour”, and a dedicated time-slot on national TV, it seems unlikely that horse racing will ever cross the finish line.

If we were to ban horse racing and steeplechasing, what would become of horses? We certainly don’t need them for transport anymore. Would they instead occupy supermarket shelves as gluesticks, cans of dog-food and steaks? There would certainly be no need for stud farms if none of the above constituted financially viable options.

Perhaps a more practical question is this: In the event of a horse’s death, who is accountable, and how should they be punished, if they can be at all?


To celebrate being a year old, we want you, the readers, to help us decide the articles you loved best during our first year and to encourage you  to participate, we are giving away three prizes!

All you have to do is look through our archives of content and email us your favourite article and also if you want, the one you weren’t so up with. From the submissions, we will assess the most-loved content from our first year and republish it at the end of our birthday month.

Both writers and readers are encouraged to enter (No, Paris, you cannot nominate your own articles…#justsaying), so please email us at [email protected] by 30th November to enter! Please include your name, address and mobile number.

And the prizes are…(did we mention there are prizes…?)

First prize: A brilliant acting course based in Sydney and hosted by Darlo Drama worth $550!

Second prize:  A gift pack from our friends at Booktopia

Third prize: Four movie passes

(Plus watch out for a couple of of other competitions during our birthday month !)

Troy Maguire

Troy Maguire is an aspiring writer and film-maker currently living in Melbourne and studying Screen and Media at RMIT. He enjoys deconstructing Hollywood blockbusters in long-winded rants, movie trivia and long walks on the beach at sunset.

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  1. Troy Alexander said:

    Thanks, Russel.

    No, you’ve got the right picture. That’s precisely what I’m saying.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting 🙂

  2. Russel said:

    This article appears to approach this topic in a really objective manner. The writer even admits to degrees of hypocrisy, and when we should ‘draw the line’. He mentions that AS A MEAT EATER, he questions what right he has to say “Horse racing is wrong”. If you just had a quick glance at this article, you’d know the bottom line is about how horse racing- a form of human ‘entertainment’ is perceived as cruel, but the degrees of animal cruelty that occur outside of this realm are being potentially neglected (potentially because unlike entertainment, other forms of animal cruelty are a ‘primary’ food source for many- and as selfish beings, we may be selectively ignoring issues we depend on). It doesn’t even infer an opinion that horse racing is first and foremost the most cruel act you could do to an animal…
    (….That or i got the wrong picture).
    Troy, this article was neither offensive or blindly subjective, and I think it invites everyone (who reads it) into a non-threatening conversation.

  3. Troy Alexander said:

    You sir, are an idiot of the highest order.

    Animals may be *bred* for racing, but they certainly aren’t “built” for it in any natural sense.

    Please read the article before commenting any further. The vicarious embarrassment is too much for me to deal with.

  4. Troy Alexander said:

    Thanks for the kind words <3

    It's certainly a very contentious topic, and I haven't seen many people approach it in a realistic way.

  5. J said:

    Well written Troy. With a lot of hype around the melbourne cup and then media controversy on the death of Admire Rakti it is good to read an article that widens the conversation.

  6. Rabia said:

    Troy lets look at the facts. These animals are CARED FOR, FED, GIVEN VETINARY ADVICE – do you see this happening in the wild? In the wild, animals are left to fend for themselves and then they are killed. These joyous animals are given an opportunity to be competitive and to do what they are built for which is racing. Do you think in the war when people used horses to travel they didn’t have casualties? I am sure those horses were not as well looked after as the racing horses.

  7. Troy Alexander said:

    Okay, listen. I get it, man. Reading’s hard. There’s just too many words and so little time.

    But maybe, just maybe, you should read the article *before* you rush to the comments section and mash your keyboard with little to no regard for intelligent discourse.

    I’m sorry for trying to ruin your fun :'(

  8. Rabia` said:

    Well first of all they are just animals so all this justification around trying to treat them like they are humans with the same rights as we have is a joke. This world has existed for thousands of years peacefully before animal terrorists got all up in arms over a few deaths. We need to eat meat to be healthy, we need to be entertained and enjoy our lives why are people like you trying to ruin that

  9. Troy Alexander said:

    “That is what they are bred for and want to do.”

    How do we know that’s what they want to do? Do horses actually “whisper” back?

    Can’t help but feel you didn’t even read the article.

  10. Rabia said:

    You are an idiot and your name is perfect for describing you. They are animals. They are well fed and cared for and just do a job and race. That is what they are bred for and want to do. We don’t ban the marathons just because someone dies? Grow up

  11. Idiotsaround said:

    Nice work Australia! Lets have a day where we beat animals and wear shitty hats and then step over the corpse of a beautiful animal. Good work you should be proud of yourself.

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