The Equine Sacrifice

by BINOY KAMPMARK

The near inimitable Marx Brothers made a point of taking comedy to the races in 1937. Horse racing is central – as joke, as investment, as potential saviour for the doomed Standish Sanitarium. Footballers, billionaires and workers do the same thing, sans the comedy but more of the sanatorium. They go to the races, riding the crest of obscene, unearned success on the back of equine genius.

There is no getting away from the performing animal as show, toy, escape, distraction, or even, in some cases, deviancy. Money enters the equation, because it always tends to. The performance of an animal before loons, drunks and tarts is not something that is particularly new. Even prior to the creation of moneyed middle class twats came the Roman public, eager to see animals in contest with spear, shield and human sacrifice. Entertainment and the animal kingdom have always been dual aspects of human pursuit.

The Melbourne Cup, held on the first Tuesday of every November, has become a big fixture and fix, Australia’s narcotic escape from affluent and dull dispositions. In 1895, Mark Twain would write on his trip through Melbourne that there was nothing else like it, this “festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation.” It garners a global television audience of 700 million. It is the high point of an industry that employs 64,000 people in some capacity. What the equine lobby says usually goes.

This is raw capitalist excitement – the ownership of thoroughbreds, nimble running beasts, big performances, combined with the tart effect, the well dressed prats in ties with companions boasting fascinators eager to make a buck or facilitate a bonk as the champagne is guzzled. This is the primitive ritual in concert with the consumerist urge.

Some go as far as to call the enterprise glamorous, though it has never shaken off its almost crude dowdiness. Indeed, the animal protection group Animals Australia, opens up its description of animal cruelty in horse racing as calling the pursuit “perhaps the most glamorous image of so-called animal ‘sports’.” There is no talk about the industrial slaughter of animals, nothing to compare with the foreign trade in cattle.

Some horses are even worshipped. The latest in the pantheon of such equine fetishism is Black Caviar, a horse Australians speak about with a misguided, bubbling affection befitting distant relatives. The probably never to be equalled horse in the gush of horse race glamour remains Phar Lap, that curious beast whose disembodied body continues to enchant school children and baffle immigrants. (The Australian racing fraternity always wondered if their American cousins had purposely poisoned the beast near Menlo Park, California in 1932.)

Melbourne Cup horses are the equivalent of quadruped gladiators. Bill Finley, a New York Daily News reporter writing in June 1993, went so far as to remark that such horses are genetic mistakes, running too fast on frames that are too large “on legs that are far too small.” They must perform. If they do not, their value diminishes. They are fed a controlled diet that emphasises high concentrate grains over extended grazing, a regime that tends to produce bleeding ulcers. The racing process itself can lead to internal bleeding, notably in the lungs and windpipe. Drugs may also feature, given to horses to cope with inflammation (the use of corticosteroids) or to cope with bleeding in the lungs (Lasix).

When it reaches a certain point, there is no necessary incentive to spoil them with soft comforts and spatial idylls. Injured horses are simply destroyed, or as the euphemism goes, “put down”. A study in 2005 conducted by the University of Sydney for the First International Equitation Science Symposium found that almost 40 percent of racehorses leave the industry annually due to illness, injury, and simply not making the taxing grade. Destroyed horses tend to end up at knackeries, where they are slaughtered for pet met, or end up at horse abattoirs.

One such conspicuous example took place after this year’s race. The five-year-old Aga Khan-owned mare Verema, a particularly majestic beast, was one such animal who was not going to go into a convalescing nursing stable with the full luxuries. Dr. Brian Stewart, Racing Victoria’s head of veterinary equine and welfare (much like a quack who presides over injured gladiatorial warriors) spoke with “regret” that “Verema had to be euthanised after suffering a fracture to a right foreleg during the running of the Emirates Melbourne Cup” (Herald Sun, Nov 5). Such an accident was “unfortunate” and knowing which side his bread was buttered on, Stewart insisted that such accidents were infrequent in the world of horse racing.

Animal spectatorship demands a long line of worn meat and hearty sacrifice. On closer inspection, the racing industry is a blood bath, a vicious meat cleaver that takes its victims as they come. Jeff Dowsing (Guardian, Oct 31), citing known figures from animal welfare groups, claims that some 25,000 racehorses face the “dog meat” fate.

As the Australian comedian, Victor Hansen, suggested via the ever available Twitter: this is a race that not so much stops the nation, but stops the nation from looking after animals. An apt summary for the racing industry and its ardent backers.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times
Brian Cloughley
Don’t be Black in America
Kent Paterson
In Search of the Great New Mexico Chile Pepper in a Post-NAFTA Era
Binoy Kampmark
Live Death on Air: The Killings at WDBJ
Gui Rochat
The Guise of American Democracy
Emma Scully
Vultures Over Puerto Rico: the Financial Implications of Dependency
Chuck Churchill
Is “White Skin Privilege” the Key to Understanding Racism?
Kathleen Wallace
The Id(iots) Emerge
Andrew Stewart
Zionist Hip-Hop: a Critical Look at Matisyahu
Gregg Shotwell
The Fate of the UAW: Study, Aim, Fire
Halyna Mokrushyna
Decentralization Reform in Ukraine
Norman Pollack
World Capitalism, a Basket Case: A Layman’s View
Sarah Lazare
Listening to Iraq
John Laforge
NSP/Xcel Energy Falsified Welding Test Documents on Rad Waste Casks
Wendell G Bradley
Drilling for Wattenberg Oil is Not Profitable
Joy First
Wisconsin Walk for Peace and Justice: Nine Arrested at Volk Field
Mel Gurtov
China’s Insecurity
Mateo Pimentel
An Operator’s Guide to Trump’s Racism
Yves Engler
Harper Conservatives and Abuse of Power
Michael Dickinson
Police Guns of Brixton: Another Unarmed Black Shot by London Cops
Ron Jacobs
Daydream Sunset: a Playlist
Charles R. Larson
The Beginning of the Poppy Wars: Amitav Ghosh’s “Flood of Fire”
David Yearsley
A Rising Star Over a Dark Forest
August 27, 2015
Sam Husseini
Foreign Policy, Sanders-Style: Backing Saudi Intervention
Brad Evans – Henry A. Giroux
Self-Plagiarism and the Politics of Character Assassination: the Case of Zygmunt Bauman