There was an eerie silence at Flemington today for the Melbourne Cup with crowds banished due to Covid restrictions.
However, it was not just the pandemic that threatened to dampen the biggest day in the racing calendar.
Anti horseracing protests were expected again on Australia’s biggest racing day, spurred by the deaths of six horses on Cup day since 2013.
That number has now hit seven after Anthony Van Dyck was euthanised after breaking down in the race.
It was loaded into an ambulance at the track.
The horse was one of the favourites heading into the race but went lame on the home straight.
There were no deaths in last year’s race although all eyes were firmly fixed on a horse called Rostropovich that was trailing far behind the rest of the pack.
It was later confirmed he suffered a stress fracture to his pelvis and many feared the worst after a grim run of deaths in recent years.
Thankfully, Rostropovich made a full recovery.
Still, animal welfare group PETA lashed out after the injury, saying the incident was indicative of the cruelty horses suffer in racing.
“Rostropovich is the latest in a long line of horses who have been seriously injured or killed during the disgrace that stops the nation — the Melbourne Cup,” PETA’s statement read.
“The reality of the abusive racing industry is that horses are made to run to the detriment of their health. These 500-kilogram animals — supported on ankles as small as those of humans — are pushed past their limits, forced to race at breakneck speeds while being whipped.”
Rostropovich’s co-trainer Tom Dabernig told Racing.com he wasn’t aware of the impending backlash when his horse pulled up last year, with his first thoughts to provide immediate comfort to the horse.
However, there was a big reaction on social media, with the hashtag #NupToTheCup quickly trending.
Two years ago the Cup was rocked by the death of Cliffsofmoher — who was euthanised in front of the grandstand crowd after the horse broke its shoulder.
That followed these deaths in Melbourne Cup day races:
In 2013, Verema was euthanised after snapping a bone in her leg.
In 2014, Admire Rakti collapsed and died in his stall after a race and Araldo broke a leg and was euthanised.
In 2015, Red Cadeaux broke his left foreleg, was rushed to the vet for surgery and was euthanised some days later.
In 2016, Regal Monarch died after a dramatic mid-race fall.
Despite the deaths Melbourne Cup day remains one of Australia’s biggest events.
Racing historian Dr Andrew Lemon told The Age, that after the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1919, the Melbourne Cup rebounded with a massive surge in popularity as thousands flocked to Flemington, with some estimates of around 110,000 spectators to watch Artilleryman win in “record time”.