I want to start off this post by saying that all of the following things said are my own opinion. There’s no doubt that horse racing is fighting a war of its own, and not just against Covid-19 but also against people who hate racing, however, the haters are going to hate no matter what. For this reason, this post aims to highlight why horse racing should continue in this current situation.
So, what is this “current situation”? Well unless you’ve literally been living under a rock, I’m talking about Covid-19. A virus that started in China that has now reached the world (and if that isn’t an example of how integrated our world is then I don’t know what is). As of writing this article, there have been 5,908 cases in Australia with 46 deaths (Worldometer). It’s a virus that attacks the respiratory system (which is what makes it so deadly) and we don’t have a cure or vaccine for it yet.
What has this got to do with horse racing though? Well if you didn’t know, literally every other sport has been cancelled; AFL, rugby, basketball, you name it. Horse racing, the trots and greyhounds are the only sports happening in Australia right now, except Tasmania. While only essential people are allowed to attend the meetings, the general public can still watch it on tv.
As a person who loves horse racing (and currently owns a share in 6 horses), but also as someone who is in the very very high death risk categories if I was to get the Covid-19, I can clearly see that there are two sides to this argument. Yes, I might have to be in isolation longer because horse racing is still going and yes, I worry a lot about those in the industry and who they’re interacting with, but there are clearly positives.
The obvious and main reason horse racing should go ahead is because it means people still have jobs. The horse racing industry employs more than 70,000 full time people Australia wide and it is an industry worth over $9 billion (The Australian 2017). If horse racing stops, it’s not just the jockeys and track staff that are out of jobs, it’s the trainers who have less to no horses in work (which means their training business might collapse), the farriers, the vets and even the stock feeders. In a time where the unemployment rate is expected to reach a record 11% (Bloomberg 2020) shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to keep jobs? If people don’t have jobs, they don’t have money to spend (or they have to rely on government funds) and this doesn’t help the economy at all.
There are not just the people to worry about but also the horses. Many could be forced into early retirement because they could be too old to race once racing returns. With so many extra horses retiring, the off-the-track thoroughbred market is going to be saturated and this might not have a good impact on the horses’ welfare. For city trainers (and those who don’t live on a property) extra agistment places are also going to have to be found for the horses while they’re spellings. This will then put extra pressure on those people and businesses. Horses need to be cared for every day even if racing stop.
If there’s no horse racing, there’s also nothing to bet on. Our local community relies on these funds to run projects, but so does the government and charities. Around 260 community organisations and charities benefited from these funds in 2014/15 and $4.6 million was given to sporting clubs in 2017/18 (RWWA Annual Report). However, the racing industry also relies on funds from betting. This was evident when RWWA announced they were reducing prize money by 20% because with the TABs closing, they had lost 50% of their revenue.
Now I hear you say, well who cares if the prize money got cut, it’s just a bonus anyway? Well yes, most owners never go into horse racing to get rich (because that never really happens anyway), but it’s more than that. Fun fact, prize money is always divided into 3 parts, 5% for the jockey, 10% for the trainer and 85% for the owners. So, therefore, the prize money cuts aren’t just affecting the owners but also trainers and jockeys (given this is their full-time jobs) are earning less now too. However, what about those owners who have lost their jobs too? This prize money could mean that they don’t have to pay horse bills for another month or don’t have to sell their share in a future champion.
Now I realise that a lot of these points raised apply to other sports, especially the AFL with up to 80% of their staff losing jobs (7 News) and stadiums no longer getting incomes which affects their employees, etc. However, there is one vital key difference, horses can stay within their own state to race, eliminating the need to travel and come into contact with those outside of their state. Yes, AFL could stay in one state but there’s only so many Dockers vs Eagles matches we can watch. RWWA has even put in further travel restrictions within WA to eliminate the need to travel even more.
On the note of RWWA, I’d like to point out the many other things they’re doing to help minimise the risk. Jockeys have been segregated, only two people from the one stable are allowed in the mounting yard, silks are only to be worn once in a meeting and the list goes on (you can find the full list on the RWWA website). Social distancing is also taking place, except for the race itself, as my sister likes to keep pointing out every time racing is on the tv. In this unprecedent time, they’re doing the best they can.
Lastly, racing gives people something to look forward to in these dark times. As a Twitter follower of mine pointed out, it’s like Phar Lap and Sea Biscuit during the Great Depression.
Let me know where you sit in this debate. Are there any other reasons for horse racing to continue? I guess only time will tell as to what the future actually holds for horse racing.