For 150 years, the Melbourne Cup was Australian thoroughbred racing’s greatest asset. Now the race that stops a nation on the first Tuesday in November is its biggest liability.

Approximately 20,000 races are run in Australia every year, but even though thoroughbred racing is embedded deeper in Australian culture than it is almost every other society on Earth, the Melbourne Cup is the only galloping contest that many millions of Aussies watch. So, when five thoroughbreds – Verema, Admire Rakti, Red Cadeaux, The Cliffsofmoher and Anthony Van Dyck – die as a result of their Melbourne Cup participation across the last eight editions of the Flemington feature event, an image crisis ensues.

Five deaths in eight unrelated races would be a statistical anomaly given about 100 gallopers die on Australian tracks annually. But these five fatalities were of high-quality visiting thoroughbreds competing in Melbourne Cups, plus there have been other overseas-prepared gallopers die in either competitive heats or training runs in recent years.

The 2020 Melbourne Cup was the fourth fastest edition of a race that has had 160 editions since its inaugural running in 1861. Maybe the very fast tempo contributed to the tragic fate of Anthony Van Dyck. Maybe the very firm Flemington track, which Racing Victoria stewards upgraded to a good three halfway through the Melbourne Cup Day meeting, had something to do with the 2019 English Derby winner fracturing a fetlock. And/or maybe the Werribee International Horse Centre‘s training facilities played a part in Hugh Bowman‘s mount breaking down on raceday. We do not know, but we need to find out – quickly – before the bad publicity of Melbourne Cup deaths kills Australian thoroughbred racing.

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