Death of Melbourne Cup starter The Cliffsofmoher sparks debate

Past winner of the Melbourne Cup Almandin, and owner Lloyd Williams, trainer Rob Hickmott, Lloyds grandson Frank Williams, strapper Joe Flannery and jockey Kierrin McEvoy at Lloyd Williams stables at Mount Macedon. Photo: Justin McManus
Past winner of the Melbourne Cup Almandin, and owner Lloyd Williams, trainer Rob Hickmott, Lloyds grandson Frank Williams, strapper Joe Flannery and jockey Kierrin McEvoy at Lloyd Williams stables at Mount Macedon. Photo: Justin McManus

The death of Cliffsofmoher as a result of the Melbourne Cup has saddened many and ignited a debate which has cast a shadow over the sport of kings 

The four-year-old stallion suffered a right shoulder fracture during the first 600 metres of Tuesday’s race and was consequently euthanased on track.

The Cliffsofmoher is the sixth horse to die from running in Australia’s greatest horse race since 2013, raising the ire of animal welfare activists and highlighting the sobering aspect of a day which is otherwise cause for national celebration.

Beaudesert horse trainer Mark Palmer said it was a shame The Cliffsofmoher’s career ended tragically but racehorses loved to run and were the best looked after athletes in the world.

He said trainers and owners loved their horses and were driven by the thrill of seeing them perform at their best rather than greed and money.

“They’re athletes,” he said.

“They love to run.

“You won’t find any athlete around looked after better than our horses.

“There is an element of risk in all sports and in all areas of life.”

RSPCA Queensland spokesperson Michael Beatty said the RSPCA had long voiced concerns about the welfare of racehorses and risk of injury and death.

“Our thoughts are with animal lovers across the country who have been affected by this loss, and confronted by the very real risks posed by racing to the horses involved,” Mr Beatty said.

“Tuesday’s tragedy is a stark reminder of the risks these horses face every time they run, and highlights that behind the gloss and glamour of Cup celebrations there is a dark reality.”

Mr Beatty said the RSPCA objected to the use of inhumane devices such as whips and tongue ties.

He said it was disappointing to see jockey Hugh Bowman, who rides champion horse Winx, suspended for 35 meetings for overwhipping during his second placed cup ride on Marmello.

“To see the guy that rides Winx well overuse the whip on that horse (Marmello),” he said.

“Winx largely does it without the whip.

“I don’t believe in the whip they could do it without it.

"Frankly, I think they should ban the whip.

“In that field alone (Melbourne Cup), horses were hit with whips several hundred times at least, with the highest number of hits occurring in the final 100 metres, when they are already tired.”

Mr Palmer who has been a trainer for more than 30 years said the padded whips currently being used were much less severe than the fibreglass version he wielded in his riding days.

“You can barely feel it when you hit bare human skin with these whips,” he said.

“It’s the movement that urges the horse on rather than the strike.”

Mr Beatty said a growing number of Australians were feeling uncomfortable about watching horse racing and the industry had much work to do across industry standards and enforceable regulations, to meet community expectations and care for the welfare of the animals involved.

Mr Palmer said such claims were unjustified and the industry had strict industry standards with which owners and trainers complied but above all else the animals were loved and cared for.

“The way things are is a lot different from when I first started,” he said.

“You have to be very sharp in how your horses are maintained and they have to be 100 per cent before they go out to the track.

“In this industry we love our animals.

“Stewards and vets check and monitor the horses and they’re very particular about how they are presented.

“The Cliffsofmoher would have been very sound pre-race and going into the gate.

“It would have been very well looked after and very well treated, and if there were any signs of that horse having any soreness, it wouldn’t have started.”

Mr Palmer said the best veterinarians had been on hand to make the right decision for The Cliffsofmoher and they saved the horse a great deal of suffering.

He said horses weighed 500 kilograms or more and were unable to bear their own weight once such a major injury had been sustained, and there was a high likelihood or recurrence.

“Realistically, they may mend to a certain degree,” he said.

“But horses want to run and when they do their is a lot of force, so once they will usually do the same damage.

“You can go the other way and try to save it but the horse suffers.

“It depends on how bad the break is but they’ve tried to use flotation (to heal horses) in the past.

“I haven’t seen them use pins.”

Mr Palmer didn’t rule the wet track out as a contributing factor to the injury but he said there was multiple possibilities.

“It may have dipped or clipped heels,” he said.

“It could have been any number of things.

“It’s just unfortunate for the horse.

“There is very few of these incidences in racing.

“The jockeys usually guide the horses on a safe path.

“I just feel sorry for the horse.

“It was well-travelled and regarded highly and his career ended.

“It’s a shame. 

“It really is.”