On Tuesday, on Melbourne Cup Day I won $5 in the office sweepstakes. The horse I picked up was Verema. That horse is dead. It was put down after breaking a bone in her leg in the race. Not quite sure why I won $5, but it was out of sympathy I think and I shall donate the money to some animal charity in return.
I took the incident to be a kind of omen – about betting mainly – but it also made me think about horse racing and what an utterly absurd sport it is.
Mainly, it’s the idea that horses are somehow willing competitors and participants in these so-called carnivals.
Michael Lynch, a sports writer at The Age, writes in a column that the death of Verema was “sad” but not a “tragedy”.
A tragedy, he said, would be if a jockey were to die as happened in Darwin recently.
Horse racing, he says like all sports come with risks, somehow suggesting that these horses have agreed (perhaps they signed a contract with their hoof?) to take on these risks.
“But the reality is that in any sport or recreational pursuit involving horses (or livestock of any kind) there will be casualties.It’s part of the risk inherent in such activity.”
He then goes on to attack those people who will use the example of the death of Verema to accuse the sport of being barbaric, when in fact very few horses die – one out of every 2000. He writes:
“For those who won’t ever approve, one is too many.For those of us who love racing, it is a sad statistic, but one that will be judged acceptable on a risk-to-return basis.”
I am sure his statistics are accurate. He is of course entitled to his opinion, but I found it heartless and in poor taste, and what really annoyed me was this line:
“Verema was a horse that gave her all.”
The notion that the horse had any idea that it was racing and trying to win.
Michael, Do you really think the horse cared whether it came first, second or last?
It makes me think of a classic Jerry Seinfeld joke about horse racing where he muses about whether horses, after the race, walk back to the stables saying: “I was fifth, while I was third…” and why if the whole idea was just to finish at the point they began, could they not have just remained where they were!
Take a listen:
To be fair, Michael Lynch is not alone. Commentator after commentator will talk about horses as if they were consciously involved in the sport. They talk of horses that “race solidly”, that “never let go” that “bolt ahead” as if these animals are cognizant beings, able to make judgements and decisions, to strategize and plot, when really its all about the little man on their backs manipulating them.
Horse racing is not grand. It’s not a spectacle. It’s quite silly and boring. It’s why people get blind drunk on cup day and frequently dress up in silly outfits.
Sometimes it can be cruel. And I doubt it’s ever all that much fun for the horse.