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Jumps Racing Should Be Banned Essay

Jumps racing is hailed by those in the industry, as the second chance of the thoroughbred race horse. We are told in various news articles & interviews, that jumps racing gives failed flat runners a second chance.

Not only that, we are constantly reminded of the catastrophic consequences the banning of jumps racing would have to the livelihood of all those involved, the loss of livelihood, income etc

So, on this page, we take an analytical look at the facts & figures of the previous few years jumps racing seasons, to get a deeper appreciation for the facts, to make it easier, browse from the list below:

Jumps racing gives failed flat runners a second chance
The livelihood of the jumps trainer
Declining Trainer & Jockey Numbers
Subsidisation of Jumps Racing by RVL
Lackluster betting figures
Statistical showdown jumps vs flats
Jumps Racing is Safe

All information is taken directly from the Racing Victoria Web site – Links provided for cross referencing

Jumps racing gives failed flat runners a second chance.
(what will society do with all the left over race horses?)

Possibly the biggest argument a jumps trainer or jockey will tell you, is that jumps racing gives these horses a second chance. We are told jumps racing needs to exist, because it keeps these horses out of the knackery. What we intend to look at here, is the number of starts these horses actually have in a season. Because in all honesty we firmly believe jumps racing to be a brief detour for a the few hundred horses who go through the trialing & racing process.

Looking at 2012 – Just under three quarters of the 157 horses who raced, had 4 or less starts, out of 66 races. Basically, out 157 horses, 45 actually took part on a “regular” basis (it may be argued that even 5 starts is scraping the bottom of the barrel. So, what did the other three quarters do for the rest of the season? Where are they? What happened to them? They certainly didn’t do a lot of jumps racing. Further to that, of the 143 horses who took part in the 2011 Victorian JR season, a staggering 89, or 62% failed to appear in the 2012 season.

The 2011 season, saw 143 horses race in the Victorian jumps season. This figure in itself is quite low, and also lead to a fair amount of confusion, as Minister for Racing Dr Denis Napthine was cited on numerous occasions in the 2011 season saying there were 220 horses registered as good to race in the 2011 season. The 2011 Jumps Season in Victoria consisted of 61 races (41 Hurdles / 20 Steeples) as opposed to the 70 that were scheduled ( 44 Hurdles / 26 Steeples) 110 horses out of 143 (or 76.92% of the competition) barely participated in the 2011 season.

The 2010 Season had 127 starters in it. Again. 93 out of 127 horses (or 73.22% of the competition) who made very little contribution to the season. It’s also interesting to note, that of the 127 that raced in the 2010 Season, 51 did not make an appearance in the 2011 Season.

Taking a look at the 2009 Season, a similar theme, 183 horses ran in the 2009 season: From 183 horses, 132, (or 72.13% of the competition) played very little part in the season, a staggering 74 never appeared in the 2010 Season. A further 7 horses had no more than two starts in the 2010 season, and never raced again. Taking that one step further, out of the 183 horses registered in the 2009 season, deceased horses not included – 119 horses did not appear in the 2011 season.

When you take the above information into consideration, can you really claim that Jumps racing is a second chance? It appears a very slim second chance, with very few stayers? Very few actually possess the skill, stamina and agility required to be successful in Jumps racing. The majority of the horses appear in no better a situation at the end of the average season anyway.

The Livelihood of the Jumps Trainer

Another popular argument in support of jumps racing, is the financial side. In other words, What about all the money the trainers will lose? Another quick look at the the 2011 Premiership Table gives a realistic indication of just how much the majority of these jumps horses actually earnt for their trainers.

$10,000 in winnings for the year? That doesn’t cover the cost of petrol, let alone feed, vet, stabling etc etc etc….

When you consider just how many horses are registered in each season – actual dollars won, is staggeringly low.

So – how about the individual trainers then? How much does Jumps racing make them? What constitutes a decent living? How much is enough? Rather than put a figure on it, we’ll class the trainers winnings into monetary brackets, and the individual can decide on whether that amount is enough to make a living off. The Trainers winnings for this year and previous years gives the following information.

Bare in mind – that the dollars earnt figures reflect the total of all prize money’s offered throughout the race year. The trainer doesn’t actually take all the prize money! The jockey takes a share, with the majority going to the syndicate owners of the horse. The trainer only takes as small percentage of all dollar amounts shown above.

What constitutes a full time trainer? How many Jumps trainers actually do this full time? The table below looks at the trainers and compares the number of trainers to how many starters they actually had – ie – how many races did they put their horses in? It’s abundantly clear, they are better described as “Hobby Trainers” as opposed to “Professional Trainers”

* A Starter is any horse, that took part in a jumps race throughout the year, be it one horse having 10 starts, on ten horses each having one start.

So? Is Jumps racing giving these horses a second chance?

Is the banning of Jumps racing going to financially ruin the trainers?

We don’t think so.

Declining Trainer & Jockey Numbers

A quick look at the number of registered trainers over the last 15 years gives a pretty clear picture of where the sport is heading, not only that but the incredible decline in registered jumps jockey’s has seen RVL actually import jockeys from Ireland. Take a look for yourself: (these figures include imports)

Jumps racing is Heavily Subsidized by RVL & TRSA.

In Victoria, the vast majority of jumps races, regardless of whether it is a hurdle or steeple gets what is known as a “starters subsidy”. It’s basically a sweetener, or an incentive to enter your horse in a race. It appears to work on a pro rata system, that is, the higher the prize money, the higher the subsidy, Subsidies range from $250 for a $12,000 race, up to $1000 for a $200,000 race. In Victoria, no other race is given a starters subsidy. In South Australia, starters subsidies are given on select flats races.

Jumps horses are not subject to acceptance fees. Every time a horse is accepted into a race, the trainer pays an acceptance fee, which is usually a percentage of the advertised prize money. This fee is waived for all jumps horses. Making entry free.

So, basically, the Victorian jumps racing trainer gets PAID to enter his horse in a jumps race. There is no monetary outlay in entering the horse in the race, and whether the horse comes first or last he never goes home empty handed. The horse doesn’t even have to finish, he just has to start, to qualify for the starters subsidy.

Jumps Racing – don’t bet on it.

With trainers getting free entry into jumps races, receiving starters subsidies regardless of whether the horse places or not, and jumps jockeys being paid more than flats jockeys, you’d think that it would be quite a popular sport. So, why aren’t people betting on it? Minister for Racing Dr Denis Napthine pledged an annual $2mil cash injection into jumps racing, and that still hasn’t helped. At most race meets, you will find the jumps races scheduled as the first few race events of the day. Hurdles / Steeples races are rarely scheduled in the later part of the day, except at the “Jumps Carnival” events, as such held in May, August. the rare exceptions being meetings classified as “Jumps Carnivals” such as Warrnambool, or Oakbank for example, and the reason being: people don’t bet on them. You don’t put your feature events on at the beginning of the race meet. You’re feature events run at the end of the day, when the punters are finished work / at the track etc etc when betting returns are maximized.

Jumps races are held at the beginning of the day, because the average punter doesn’t bet on them. Why would you bet in a race where there is a very high likelihood that the horse will not cross the line? You get no return for your investment. It’s money down the drain. Some will argue that that is the nature of gambling – however, losing money because you placed a bad bet is usually the blame of the person who placed the bet. Losing money because the animal you placed your bet on was pulled up, fell or killed in a race, is an entirely different issue. Your average punter cannot understand why horses are “pulled out” of a race “for no apparent reason. All they see, is their loss of investment, hence, most punters avoid placing bets on races where there is a very high chance they will not get a return on their money. For example. The 2011 statistic “failed to finish” rate, was just over 11%. Last year, it was over 15%.

Statistical showdown Jumps vs Flats (Victoria)

One of the most common arguments / discussions we hear is “Horses fall / die in flats racing all the time – what about that?

So – we felt it only fair to study the 2011 Victorian Flats racing field & results to ascertain a base line, or performance comparison. Although we have studied the entire year, in order to ensure we were comparing apples with apples, our statistical comparison is based on the Jumps Racing calendar (April – September). Owing to the sheer scale of flats racing in Victoria, we would like to stress that all figures are approximate (to within 0.5% accuracy), also hurdles & steeples have been combined.
*All results are based on Victorian flats / jumps season 2011 ie, trial races ARE NOT included

* Total number of falls, deaths, fail to finish and lost riders,

Do horses die more in jumps racing?

One horse died out of 116 starting in jumps races in Victoria this 2011 season.
During the same period, one horse died for every 2,326 horses starting in races without obstacles, flat racing.
This makes starting in a jumps race 20 times more dangerous than starting in a flat race, that is – they are 20 times more likely to die in a jumps race compared to a flats race.

Do horses fall more in jumps racing?

One in 14 starters that commenced a jumps race, fell. Some actually fell numerous times throughout the season. Horses like scouting, actually fell twice in one race! Even more concerning are the horses like Scouting & Morsonique who havent’ been seen since their last fall. This of course, is in comparison to flats racing, which registered 4 falls, in total,meaning that 1in every 7754 starters fell in the same period of time.

You may remember the “Banna Strand” incident, where out of a field of 8 horses, two actually crossed the line, two fell, two were brought down, two more failed to finish and one of the horses brought down, recovered and leapt into the onlooking crowd injuring onlookers, prompting an enquiry into spectator safety.

To look at it another way, if you apply the death & fall rates of jumps racing to flats races –

1644 starters (7.07% of the flats starters) would have fallen over the flats &
200 starters (0.86% of the flats starters) would have died over the flats.

It doesn’t matter how you look at it, flats racing performs exceptionally well in comparison to jumps racing. The falls & deaths are vastly different.
Yes, horses fall on the flats and yes, horses die – but from the research that we have done, and the figures we have collated, there is no argument. Statistically speaking jumps racing’s performance is woeful in comparison.

Statistical Showdown Jumps vs Flats (South Australia)

Again, as mentioned above, all statistics are calculated based on the time frame of the jumps racing season (March – September). Please allow a tolerance of +/- 0.5%. Again, trial races ARE NOT included.

Jumps Racing is perfectly safe!

Consider this

The debate to make jumps racing safer has gone on for years. Reviews in 2002,2005 and ,2008 have failed to have any real impact on the sport – ( see here for a 20 year history of the death rates) If the RVL’s KPI’s had been in effect from the years 1980 – 2002 the death rate would have failed the KPI 14 out of 22 years. It has failed 4 times out of the last six years.

What is interesting to note on this graph, is the 2009 result came the year after the 2008 Judge Jones Report (Found here) You would agree that killing 13 horses instead of 15 horses in a year across both states, is not an improvement, and that whatever was suggested in the review was unsuccessful. (We are looking at the deaths in races and trials for both states, the reason being, Victorian horses, and jockeys run in South Australia as well as Victoria, the two seasons do not consist of separate runners or jockeys). Looking into earlier years, jumps killed 7 horses in 2006, as it did in 2005, after the 2005 review. Again, no improvement to the number of horses killed, despite recommendations from the various racing / welfare organisations.

Looking closer at 2009 – The pressure is on, jumps deaths are in the news practically every week, Multiple animal welfare organisations are calling for the end of jumps racing, and they actually succeed – it is announced on November 2009 that jumps racing will cease in Victoria after the 2010 season. (Read the article here) Now, understand that once it goes in Victoria, it folds in South Australia, because they simply don’t have the jumps horses over there – the majority of the SA competiton is made up of Victorian horses.

Racing Victoria Chairman Michael Duffy is quoted in the above article saying

“The recommendations of six previous reviews had been implemented without any sustained reduction in incident rates,” he said.

He acknowledges and admits, that the reviews have done NOTHING to improve the safety of the jumps. The redesigns, making the jumps lower, changing the angles, construction method, construction material, have done nothing. Training courses for the jockeys and horses alike, are all in vain. This sport cannot be made safer.

Move on then, to 2010, and they have the season of the century! Victoria (only) killed 2 horses. (South Australia killed 3), Any horse that even looks like tiring is pulled up left right and centre, the Victorian “Failed to Finish” rate goes through the roof, jumps racing becomes unpopular with the punters because of this, but as a consequence of the vast reduction in deaths, jumps racing gets a reprieve. Everyone breaths a collective sigh of relief. We then look at 2011 – and the results couldn’t be further from those of 2010. 2011 had 16 more horses in it than 2010, and killed three times as many horses in Victoria. (2 Victorian horses in 2010, 6 Victorian horses in 2011) or 5 horses across both states in 2010 and 12 horses in 2011. Are we looking at the same state? Were they using the same horses? Jockeys? What happened?

Did everyone let their guard down? Did they stop worrying about the future of jumps racing, and throw caution to the wind? Nothing changed between 2010 and 2011 regarding safety – Jump design stayed the same, the courses stayed the same. There was no reason, for there to be such an improvement on the death rate one year, and not the next. The bad performance of the 2011 season once again saw jumps racing thrown into the news on a weekly basis, with public opinion scathing. The “Banna Strand” incident didn’t help, neither did the RVL’s attempts to pass it off as a one off event either.

So, the 2012 season has ended and Victoria (only) killed 3 horses (two in trials- so they aren’t “real”). An outstanding result not only compared to the 2011 season, but the last 30 years of jumps racing. It is the safest year that jumps racing has had since the deaths were recorded, which raises multiple questions. Why has it taken Racing Victoria Limited all this time to to achieve these results?. Why has it taken a half dozen animal welfare groups hundreds of advocates, thousands of letters to politicians, demonstrations and protests, dragging these men kicking and screaming to the table in order to make this damn sport safer! Why on earth wasn’t this done years ago?

More questions – If we are to consider 2012 a “safety” success, should we also consider 2012 a benchmark? Just as some thought 2010 should have been a bench mark year? Is this now to be the norm for Victorian jumps racing? And if so, are these results now achievable on a long term basis? Should anything less be unacceptable?


As the annual event approaches, the deaths of two horses last year and the same number the year before have raised questions about the ethics of a race with such a high casualty rate. Should it be banned, or simply made safer?

The race owes its unique status precisely to its proximity to the margin of acceptable risk

Chris McGrath, Racing Correspondent

Of all the charges levelled against its most famous institution, only one can be rejected by horse racing as downright fatuous. And that is the notion that its professional community is insensitive to the moral challenges raised by the Grand National, or indeed any race over jumps.

Nobody should be arrogant enough to presume they suffer a deeper anguish, when things do go wrong, than is felt by those who lavish such attention and affection upon their charges – 365 days a year, in all weathers – and return from the races with just a bridle hanging loose in their horsebox. It should count for something that these people find it in their hearts to persevere.

But the sport must resist any temptation to answer its critics with an intolerance of its own. For while it is entitled to disregard those inflamed by rancour or bile, it must give due consideration to all civilised counsel offered from the world beyond its parish walls. As society changes, after all, so may the threshold of acceptable risk set by a reasonable person.

Any such person, equally, will acknowledge that his or her judgement cannot be especially well-informed, so long as it is based upon watching one race a year.

If racing continues to consult society – as represented by welfare charities, in conjunction with which further changes to the course have been made this year – then it should remain a reciprocal process.

The last two Nationals have been harrowing. The visceral distress of 2011, when the field passed those tarpaulins and screens on the second circuit, was compounded by two more fatalities last year.

After races on the first days of the meeting had seemed to vindicate modifications made in the meantime, it began to seem as though the National was now cursed.

But those prepared to persevere in mutual education found that these latest losses were freakish to the point of being unaccountable.

Synchronised suffered a fatal injury while loose, having discarded his jockey, and According To Pete collided with another horse.

Both disasters highlighted the risks to which horses are routinely exposed, in varying degrees, by jump racing. You can lose a horse in the most innocuous environments. They sustain irreparable damage in cantering over cushioned training surfaces, even while idling in stables or paddocks. Any thoroughbred will be exposed to some danger in pursuit of its own instincts. (By the way, try making one jump round Aintree against its will.)

But the question here is not whether their use for sport is legitimate. To that extent, it is wholesome that everyone should sometimes be made to confront what can be at stake – just as people who eat meat should not be permitted ignorance of abattoir procedures.

For thoroughbreds and cattle alike, their different uses to mankind are what spare them from decimation to a small zoo population.

In both cases, it is imperative that mankind retain a clear conscience in the way it handles them.

That is the challenge for the National. It owes its unique status precisely to its proximity to the margin of acceptable risk.

For now, society at large remains broadly enthused by watching and betting on the race, as currently configured.

Perhaps some day thoughtful, informed voices will contend that some of its defining qualities – as the ultimate test of agility and stamina for horse and rider – take it beyond that margin.

For now, however, those voices caution that smaller fences are jumped quicker, that speed kills as much as anything. And they also acknowledge that even a fatal accident does not automatically reflect some unacceptable risk.

Sometimes terrible incidents take place where there is  neither culpability or carelessness by anyone involved

David P Muir, Equine Consultant to the RSPCA

Neither I nor the RSPCA condone or attempt to justify the death of any racehorse. The Society will always seek change where there is unacceptable risk of tragedies occurring.

However, I accept that sometimes terrible incidents take place where there is neither culpability nor carelessness by anyone involved. This applies to horse racing as it does to all walks of life.

The 10 years leading up to 2011 were the safest in modern Grand National history. But the four deaths in 2011 and 2012 and the subsequent media attention – together with the concerns raised by the RSPCA – prompted urgent action. The Society demanded comprehensive scrutiny of the race format and offered seven options for change (five of which have been realised). I am now confident that the racing industry accepts that radical change was needed to ensure the future of the race to accommodate the modern racehorse.

The new plastic core fences introduced this year are undoubtedly a major and welcome change, emulating the type of fence and resistance the horses meet elsewhere. Concerns have been raised that the altered fences may jump faster and my question in this respect is; do the horses determine the speed in a race, or is it the jockeys?

My view on Becher’s Brook has always been that the more gifted horses are able to cope with the many facets this fence offered. However, the drop, the turn, the adverse slope on landing, the solid cores, the adverse angle on the approach and the potential of bunching have, over the years created a fence where horses predictably fell with fatal consequences. Once again substantial changes have been made with the solid core replaced, the drop reduced and adverse slope on landing addressed. The fence jumped well on the first time tried in December, however, I will keep my counsel as to whether these changes are effective when the 40 horses in the Grand National race have negotiated this obstacle.

The high number of horses in the race, 40, naturally increases the likelihood of incident and offers the potential of bunching or horses and fallers getting in each others’ way with tragic consequences. Responding to the concerns of recent years I would have thought it would have been more prudent to help assure the future of this race to reduce the logistical  factor to 30.

There is one major factor that is rarely discussed and that is the jockey’s responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of his mount. The inevitable rush to the first fence has seen many incidents where speed has increased the risk of falling. In a four-and-a-half mile race over 30 fences, surely the jockey’s thoughts should include the competent jumping of the initial fences to give his horse familiarity and confidence for the many fences to be negotiated rather than seek to dominate a leading position from the start. I have a great deal of admiration for the bravery shown by jockeys and ask that they keep within the whip restrictions as overuse of the whip aid is simply unacceptable especially in tired horses.

The stance of the RSPCA in racing is one of constructive, and where necessary critical, dialogue, and irrespective of the results of this year’s race this will continue for the benefit of the racehorse.

It isn’t an ‘accident’ when horses  somersault over Becher’s Brook or Valentine’s

Andrew Tyler, Director of Animal Aid

The truth about the Grand National is encapsulated in the boastful tagline of Channel 4’s advert for the race: “the original extreme sport”. In its simulated version of the race we see a jockey crash to the ground but no horses fall. In reality, it is the horses who face the most severe risk at Aintree. Eleven have been killed in the National since 2000 – four in the past two years. Another 11 have died in other races on the same course. No jockeys – who can choose whether to take part – have perished.

Of course, Animal Aid is mindful of the serious injuries suffered by JT McNamara at Cheltenham last month. We don’t want to see jockeys hurt. But let’s get some perspective. In March 2007, Animal Aid launched an online database of horse fatalities on British racecourses. Since then, we have verified 944 equine deaths – and the true figure is very likely to be 1,200 or more. We know of no jockey who has died racing in Britain during that period.

The National’s traditional selling point has been precisely its ability to bring horses down in a spectacularly brutal manner. It isn’t an “accident” when horses somersault over Becher’s Brook or Valentine’s. The course was designed to that end. But this isn’t a Tom and Jerry cartoon, in which the protagonists bounce back to their feet. In the National, real bones are broken. The problem for the racing authorities in 2013 is that public sentiment is shifting against such callous animal exploitation – with a poll last year showing that most people who hold an opinion regard the race as cruel.

And so Aintree and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) must either eliminate those elements that make the National five times more lethal than the average British jump race, or continue with their series of “safety improvements” (softening the core of the fences, improving the  starting arrangements, etc), while leaving the essentials unchanged. They have chosen the latter.

To try to pacify an increasingly disgruntled public, they are engaging in some ripe doublespeak. The notorious Becher’s Brook has brought down three of the four horses which died at the past two Nationals, yet Aintree’s chairman described those fatalities as “freak accidents”. More incredibly, the BHA’s then director of equine science and welfare told a meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare last October that the purpose of Becher’s Brook is “to keep the speed of the race down and the field spread”.

Even after this year’s “safety measures”, Becher’s remains lethal for many reasons, including its height, spread, diagonal angle of approach, the fact that it comes at the end of a fast straight of five demanding fences, and because the landing side is still lower than the take-off side.

As for the course in general, numerous perversely hazardous features remain. Among them: an overcrowded field of 40 horses; a uniquely long distance, with more fences per mile than any other race; and obstacles that vary in height and design, unlike the uniform fences found on other British courses. It is little wonder an average of only 37 per cent of horses have managed to finish the race in the past ten years.

We keep hearing that racehorses are deeply cherished and cosseted. In reality, racing treats thoroughbreds as reproducible commodities, killing or dumping thousands every year when they fail to make the grade and when their racing days are over.

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