Jumps racing gets reprieve, but for how long?

May 19, 2009

Jumps racing has the unanimous support of Racing Victoria's board, but the sport is potentially a hurdle or two away from what one Australian commentator has called extinction.

Racing Victoria announced yesterday that jumps racing in the state will resume with some changes intended to improve safety, and will be reviewed in September, at the end of the season. There have already been two reviews of the sport in the last year.

However, it has confirmed the resumption of the sport is on a meeting by meeting basis, and the board has not ruled out the possibility it may revisit the decision sooner than the planned review.

Animal welfare campaigners have reacted angrily to the board's decision, with the RSPCA in Victoria saying that the deaths of five horses in the state in a matter of weeks have been in vain.

"The RSPCA is appalled with Racing Victoria's decision to allow jumps racing in Victoria to continue," said RSPCA Victorian president Hugh Wirth.

"During their jumps race, these horses sustained fatal injuries including broken legs and a broken neck, resulting in death.

"Racing Victoria has once again bowed to industry pressure and will allow this legalised form of cruelty to continue for economic gain.

"The decision to prioritise money and jobs over the welfare of horses is negligent and is indicative of Racing Victoria's leading motivation of profit at the detriment of horse welfare.

"Any more horses that are injured or euthanased in the name of this cruel sport are on the conscience of Racing Victoria CEO Rob Hines and Racing Minister Rob Hulls."

The RSPCA would now step up its campaign and would not rest until jumps racing was permanently banned in Victoria, he said.

The decision to allow jumps racing was welcomed by the state's Deputy Premier and Racing Minister Rob Hulls.

"The RVL board is best placed to take into account the views from all sides of the debate and has made a decision that will allow jumps racing to continue but in a way that will best protect the welfare of both horses and jockeys," he said.

"These extra measures will provide better training and monitoring of horses and improved education for jumps riders.

"As I have previously said, the rate of deaths so far this season and last year is unsustainable and the industry remains on notice that improvements must be made to ensure the whole industry is not tainted."

Hulls said jumps racing was an emotive issue that understandably had raised passions on all sides of the debate.

"There have been some intemperate remarks made that have not reflected well on some elements of the industry," he said.

"Now the decision has been made, I would urge calm, and encourage all those with an interest in jumps racing to conduct any future debate in a responsible and respectful way."

Hulls, in reference to earlier criticism that his comments could be seen as a bid to influence the board to end jumps racing, said the decision put paid to suggestions of political interference regarding the independent Racing Victoria board.

"I have always maintained that this decision was a matter for the independent RVL board," he said.

"RVL chairman Rob Hines last week made it completely clear that any suggestion of political interference or pressure was incorrect and mischievous."

Commentator Patrick Smith, writing in The Australian newspaper, suggested: "The underlying message from yesterday's board announcement was that the industry and sport were just a tumble or two away from extinction.

"With no guarantee that the industry will survive until the September review, it would be a rich man or woman who invests in a jumping horse, a reckless trainer who buys one and a misguided jockey who decides upon it as a long-term career option."

Jumps racing in the state was suspended, pending investigations, on May 7. Today in Victoria, 36 horses are scheduled to run in nine hurdle and steeplechase trials at Moe.

Jumps racing proper will resume on Sunday, with three races scheduled for Mornington.