Frock up and have a tipple at our very own killing fields
We’re told that there are few things more enjoyable than a day at the races. Associated with the kind of devil-may-care japery that allows one to don a fine hat and drink bubbly before midday, racedays support that fine Australian tradition of shirking work in order to yell loudly at something somewhat sporty.
We frock up, we have a tipple and we take a punt. No one wears thongs.
On the surface, it all appears quite lovely and so terribly, terribly civilised.
But behind the fashion stakes and the public holiday carnivals there’s a dark, seedy side to horse racing here in Australia and it’s one they really don’t want you to see. That is the practice of forcing horses to hurtle around a long track with the weight of an obese concrete garden gnome on their back while jumping over obstacles. It’s commonly known as jumps racing and it’s distinctly on the nose in the only two states of our nation to still playing host to the anachronism - Victoria and South Australia.
Jumps racing is just over 1 per cent of the total racing industry in terms of turnover but I’d wager it accounts for 99 per cent of industry PR headaches - no mean feat given the ‘colourful’ nature of the Sport of Kings. Yet staggering statistics like a race death rate 18 times greater than for a flats do little to make the spin doctors task easy.
As a Member of Parliament in a state where the local Government generously funds new multi-million dollar facilities and in recent years enabled tax concessions to benefit the SA racing industry (heavens we even obligingly changed the date of a major public holiday for them) they probably feel my glossy little double freebie access all areas passes that dutifully arrive in the Parliamentary post each year are the least they can do.
But I’d never used one - until this weekend. Time to change all that I thought and go take a gander at the solitary jumps race in the Saturday afternoon schedule at Morphettville.
After my brief fashion check posed no barriers (too cold for thongs anyway) a further survey of the various SAJC and RacesSA web and social media sites quickly pulled up a slew of ‘fan photos’ posted by punters and patrons alike of fun days out with a glass in hand and a flutter in the offing. The racing horses themselves often taking centre stage in these crowd initiated happy snaps.
So sitting quietly in the almost empty stands imagine my surprise to find that the mere possession of a camera with intent to take a potentially not-quite-so-happy-snap during a jumps race at Morphettville is an act of treason to our cosy little arrangement between the Sport of Kings and the corridors of power to warrant the attention of five burly security guards to restrain anyone daring to click that treacherous shutter if a horse should fall.
To be clear, I am informed by the burliest of the posse of security personnel that this unwritten rule I have apparently breached only applies during a jumps race and certainly not during a flats race and when I suggest that the police by consulted to examine the veracity of this I am also astoundingly informed by the man (I will go out on a limb here and suggest unreliably) that the SAJC are - to use his words - “above the law”. Perhaps he has some inside tip to which I’m not privy? (Note to self: check regs recently gazetted just to make doubly sure…)
Long story short, I am escorted off the premises and even prevented from taking a photo of the ‘conditions of entry’ at the gate declaring a ban only on broadcast quality video for commercial broadcast purposes - a far cry from a hand held stills camera that fits neatly in a handbag - by an ever growing security team stepping in to curb this potential PR disaster.
Shutting down access to images to save this struggling part of the industry is not a new tactic. It’s been trialled in Victoria and previously picked up by the pesky journos of The Australian although I would suggest it’s not a terribly effective or even legal solution.
When jumps race carnage is damaging the overall brand of racing to the extent damage control is de rigueur there is a far more effective solution.
Simply stop the largely unprofitable jumps races themselves then you won’t need to shield the public from gruesome images of an event the typically measured and cautious animal welfare group RSPCA has dubbed a ‘killing fields’.
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