It would seem to me as an outsider looking in, that in the long term, the three codes of racing are in for an extremely worrying time – all because of animal welfare concerns.

To set the scene for this story, let me reflect on just how quickly the world changes. Even if we live to a ripe old age of say 90 or 100, which only a minute fraction of the population currently do, we humanoids are on Earth, as its overseers, for what is in reality merely a blink of an eye in terms of the longevity of the planet.

I’m only a youngster compared to many earthlings involved in the racing game, as I only turn 60 during 2015. But look at the amazing things that a person of my age has experienced in life to this point. Wonders such as television, computers, mobile phones, the Internet and a myriad of other inventions of recent decades – it’s difficult to imagine life without them – but people of a bygone era got by just fine without them. The dirt roads of yesteryear are in the main a thing of the past and the modern passenger car is so much safer and faster. Queensland even managed to have its lowest road toll in 2014 since records started being taken. What a wonderful and extraordinary feat that is as there are so many more cars on the roads nowadays. Aeroplane travel in the modern day allows us to fly from one part of the world to the other the same day – and given that tens of thousands of flights take off globally daily, the percentage of aircraft crashes doesn’t even rate a mention. Things are so much better these days that it’s truly unbelievable to stand around and watch the world evolve. Talk of “the good old days” is really a lot of rot, as in reality, who would like to go back to driving an old Vauxhall Viva down a long and dusty dirt road with no seat belts or fly in a Fokker Friendship from Brisbane to Perth? No one that I know.

I often smile to myself when I reflect on starting my working life as a teller in the National Bank 40-odds years ago. Ashtrays adorned the branch at every turn. If a client wanted a smoke there was an astray out the front of the teller’s cage. If a client wanted to fill out a deposit or withdrawal, they could have a cigarette, cigar, or pipe, whilst they did that as they attended to that task. No one complained. It was a far more tolerant world back then. Banks were open on Saturday morning in the 1960’s but by the time I started work in 1972 they were closed on Saturdays.

Fast forward nearly 40 years and imagine how mortified “they” would be today if “they” saw an ashtray in a bank – let alone a smoker. And just to prove that the world turns full circle, I see a plethora of banks have started opening again on Saturdays in some major shopping centres.

Now extrapolate all the “good old days” events from society from a past era to the racing industry – and just look how things have changed. Greyhounds used to chase live hares up a straight course. The hare would fly through a hole at the other end of the course – and that’s only if things went according to plan – and the greyhounds would be left with their ears pricked, wondering where the hare went. Imagine having live coursing all around Australia today? There would be an uproar and “they” would shut the industry down.

In thoroughbred racing back 40-odd years ago, or even 10 years ago, a jockey could hammer a horse as many times as they wanted to with the whip – and as hard as they liked. A horse could come back to scale with noticeable welt marks on it from being hit hard scores of times with the whip. No one cared. The racing industry didn’t care and for that matter nor did society in general. It all went with the territory.

In harness racing drivers had whips which when I think about it now make me cringe. Yet as a 12YO kid calling a harness race at Maryborough, I never gave the whip or its use so much as a second thought. For the younger readers, the harness whip of yesteryear was a long cane with a golf ball shaped round ball at the end of it. And there was none of this current don’t raise the arm above the shoulder stuff of today. It was open slather. Hit them as often as you like – and as hard as you like –anywhere the driver could see fur. The general public – even if they didn’t go to harness racing meetings saw the pacers get hit with unrestricted whip use at the shows. No one had a problem with what was happening in front of them. If a driver wanted to start hitting a horse from when the bell rang for that last lap there were no restrictions on whip use.

Fast forward all those aforesaid scenarios involving the racing industry across the three codes to 2015 and the world would be aghast if live hare coursing happened in the greyhound world, or if unrestricted whip use happened in the thoroughbred or harness codes.

In greyhound racing, the lures in the last decade or more have been modernized so that they can be made to emit a squeaking noise to give the greyhound the thought that it is chasing live game out in a paddock.

In thoroughbred racing they’ve introduced a padded whip to try to get rid of the hard and unforgiving other harsh whip of yesteryear. Jockeys of today in Australia have restrictions how many times they can hit a horse at certain points of the race and how high they can lift their arm to hit the horse. Unfortunately as recently as last Saturday some jockeys can’t count. Stewards fine the jockey but that doesn’t have a deterrent effect on some serial offenders, so now the stewards have started suspending them for multiple offences and from a personal perspective I think that’s good to see. Let a jockey walk along the beach each morning and learn to count to 10 whilst also running the rules through his or her head. Put simply it’s like anything else in life, in that if they can’t learn the easy way – then there’s only one alternative – they’ll just have to learn the hard way.

In harness racing that old golf ball sized device on the end of the whip is thankfully gone forever and the driver can only lift their arm to a certain height and so on and so forth.

The famous “they” say that the “new style padded whip doesn’t hurt” but let me say that that’s a bit of a fallacy also. If anyone disagrees with me on that point please allow me to hit the person who disagrees with a “padded whip” – after which they can advise me whether it hurts or not. If you know a jockey, ask him or her to let you borrow a padded whip and give yourself one good hard hit on the side of the leg with it – and see if you think it hurts or not.

Still on thoroughbred racing and jumps racing in Australia today, it is little more than a joke to what it was in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when equine athletes like Crisp and Lots Of Time were flying over a fence on their way to yet another victory. Their magnificent action shots when leaping over fences were good enough to make the top sporting photo in the metropolitan newspaper in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Nowadays Crisp and Lots Of Time wouldn’t even rate a mention in mainstream media, as they’d hardly ever get to start in a race. So in effect, whether we like it or not, the protestors have nearly closed jumps racing down. You can say that the protestors are this, that, or the other – and call them all the names under the sun, but at the end of the day they are a minority group but as we live in a democracy they are entitled to their opinion. History has proven time and again that ignoring minority groups is an extremely dangerous practice. For instance the anti-smoking lobby was once “a minority group”. Personally I’ve never heard anything more stupid than the notion that a person can light up a cigarette, and a non-smoker 20 metres away can get lung cancer. They even ban smoking in malls and the like today, which I don’t agree with and I don’t smoke, albeit I did until 15 years ago. But the point to be made is that “a minority group” that started out as an anti-smoking lobby group that no one took seriously, finished up having all the say in today’s society. The only ones who don’t have any rights are the smokers. How many participants in the racing industry got behind the anti-smoking lobby and thought it was great to see all the restrictions being placed on smokers? Many thousands I’d suggest. Well then when “a minority group” want changes made in the racing industry I’m sorry – but I can’t really see any difference.

At the Brisbane RNA (Exhibition) Show in August last year, harness racing drivers didn’t carry whips. I wrote a special article well before the RNA show advising it would be prejudicial to the interests of harness racing for drivers to carry a whip. The general public – particularly the young people – would be aghast if they saw a horse being hit with a whip at the RNA Show. I have two granddaughters and they are now aged 17YO and 15YO. It’s interesting to take them to the races – either to the thoroughbreds or the trots – and watch what they absorb and comment on. Everything is fine except one thing – the whip. It is seen by these young people as some form of barbaric symbol of a bygone era and it’s these “young people” who are the leaders of tomorrow.

Administrators ponder why racing has no appeal to young people. I accept that they do get a big crowd of drunks at some thoroughbred race days, but if you stopped them all at the front gate, on their way out after the last race and asked them to name one horse that won on the day, the vast majority wouldn’t have a clue and in Swahili would answer “Pass”. The “best bet of the day” as far as the drunks knew was “Fourex Gold” or “Toohey’s New”.

So the challenges that face the three codes of the racing industry going forward are enormous and I’m sure hardly any administrators or participants understand just how “enormous” they are. In fact in my opinion, the animal welfare challenges that the industry will have to deal with in the coming years and/or decades will be almost insurmountable.

If you think that’s a stupid statement, well at the recent Magic Millions race day at the Gold Coast on 10 January, the protestors outside the front gate made it on to the main six o’clock news bulletin on Channel 9 – but the $1,640,000 total prizemoney Magic Millions 2YO race won by Le Chef didn’t. Why’s that? Well the answer is two-fold I suspect. Firstly Channel 7 had the race day live so Channel 9 decided to put on the negative part of the day, which is fair enough I guess in love and war – and secondly protestors make for a better news story than 50-kilo bundles of joy hitting the horses in a close finish. As an analogy the six o’clock news bulletins last night carried the story of the plane crashing into the river in Taipei – they didn’t show Flight 671 from Brisbane to Cairns direct taking off without incident as that would be as boring as watching paint dry.

Down near the new proposed Logan greyhound track that has been going to be built for years – but which no one has quite got around to starting yet – protest groups went about advertising on a huge billboard on busy Kingston Road to get their message across to the general public, as to what happens to greyhounds at the end of their racing career.

Down in Melbourne another billboard on a major road targeted the thoroughbred industry with a photo of a deceased horse. Again it’s a free country, so if minority groups want to go and lease billboards to get their message across it’s a no-brainer that they have that right.

The racing industry moves right on along, irrespective of minority groups of protestors but only a fool would not take notice of the fact that in increasing numbers, members of the general public don’t like aspects of the three codes of racing, so burying one’s head in the sand is not an option on the issue. If you think about it logically, the racing industry is really an easy target, as I estimate only about 10% of the adult population are interested in betting on racing on a weekly basis. That therefore means that if my figure is anywhere near accurate that 90% aren’t interested in racing.

We thankfully live in a democracy where everyone is entitled to their own opinion – and as such it is little more than a gross dereliction of duty if the racing industry simply stands back with its eyes and ears closed and its mouth open and ignores the opinions of others.

To me it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that in the future there could be a fund established from say .01 of 1% of TAB turnover around Australia with those monies being paid to people to re-house retiring equine and canine athletes.

Today on www.brisbaneracing.com.au there’s some educational racing facts to ponder. On www.sydneyracing.com.au there’s David Clarkson’s Part 3 of a four-part series looking back on 2014, with Part 4 ready to go up next Tuesday, whilst on www.melbourneracing.com.au Matt Nicholls looks at John O’Shea’s time with Goldolphin and why he’ll be desperate for his first Group 1 winner for the Sheikh since taking over from Peter Snowden.

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