Seven horses have died in the last eight Melbourne Cups but it’s still New Zealand’s biggest annual betting event. Is this something New Zealanders should be celebrating? 

We put a poll out to our audience asking if young people care about the Melbourne Cup - 20% responded yes, 80% responded no. 

In recent years, there have been growing concerns for the wellbeing of horses in the racing industry.

In the last nine years, seven horses that have raced in the Melbourne Cup have died after being injured. 

And in 2020, one of the top-rated horses heading into the Melbourne Cup was euthanised after breaking down in one of its races. 

Will Appelbe, spokesperson for New Zealand animal rights group SAFE, says horse racing has a negative impact on the welfare of horses.

“Here [in Aotearoa], we've had nine horses killed this year alone. There's nothing about [horse racing] that's worth celebrating at all,” Will says.

A New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing spokesperson told Re: News four horses have died this season, and 13 last season, which across races worked out to be 0.69 deaths per 1000 starts, positioning New Zealand “as one of the safest jurisdictions in the world”.

“Of course, in an ideal world we would want no fatalities, the grief of losing a horse cannot be imagined by those who have never worked with these wonderful animals.”

She says running is a natural behaviour for horses: “Thoroughbreds run from the moment they figure out how to use their legs, paddocks of yearlings regularly race around.”

“Here’s a newsflash for young urban New Zealanders – animals die.  Sometimes they die due to freak paddock accidents, sometimes due to bolting through a fence when townies let off fireworks, sometimes they break a leg when racing.”

Welfare guidelines focus on ensuring horses have a good life which allows them to thrive and perform to their natural abilities, she says. 

Will says whipping has also proven to be an issue with the welfare of horses in the racing industry.

“The skin of a horse is so sensitive that they can sense a fly landing on them. So if you can imagine that their skin is that sensitive, how painful it would be to be whipped over and over again.”

The New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing spokesperson says whips have been adapted significantly over recent years and are now designed to make a popping noise rather than being instruments of pain.  

“If you watch a race closely you will see jockeys seldom make contact when using the whip.”

The number of times jockeys are permitted to use the whip has been reduced over recent years, she says, and jockeys are fined or suspended if they exceed this number.

“This attitude, usually from animal activists with no experience of the bond between horses and those who care for them, is really incredibly insulting.”

She says 1% of prize money is spent on welfare initiatives and the racing industry contributes $1.6 billion to the economy and employs 15,000 people.

“Every year SAFE etc have a crack on Cup day and then crawl back in their holes for another 364 days while we keep ensuring our horses and people are as safe as possible. Interestingly, you never hear them kicking up about injuries to and deaths of jockeys, but I suppose they are expendable?”

Will says that New Zealanders need to find something other than the Melbourne Cup to celebrate and encourages people to not place bets or watch the races.

“Go dress up and do something else that doesn't involve abusing horses for entertainment.”

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