Racing Minister Martin Pakula has sprung out of the gates to head off any doubts about the future of jumps racing in Victoria despite pressure from a minor party.
The Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick, who is in line to represent Western Victoria in the upper house, says he will introduce legislation for an immediate, statewide ban on jumps racing if elected.
This move would spell the end of Warrnambool’s Grand Annual Steeplechase, held since 1872, which is the cornerstone of the May Racing Carnival and brings more than $10 million into the local economy, according to consultancy firm IER. But Mr Meddick said there had been 24 deaths at Warrnambool since 2006, including two this year.
“When we consider that Warrnambool in particular is one of the deadliest tracks in Australia and that there's only two states left that actually have jumps racing – Victoria and South Australia — that means there's no justification left for the sport to continue,” he said.
“No one can dispute the fact it is a high-risk industry...and looking at Warrnambool, we're asking these horses to run a Melbourne Cup distance and jump, it's a recipe for disaster.
“I can appreciate and understand that Warrnambool has a large amount of money coming into it from racing but just because something makes money doesn't mean there's a moral justification.”
Mr Meddick said the AJP would also propose a one per cent betting levy across all flat and jumps racing revenues, which would reportedly generate enough money to take horses out of the program and fund their retirement program.
However, Mr Pakula said if an AJP candidate was elected, the Victorian Government would not support any legislation brought forward to ban jumps racing.
Warrnambool Racing Club CEO Peter Downs rejected Mr Meddick’s allegations surrounding safety. He said jumps horses were “highly skilled” and the sport had lifted its safety record with seen a series of enhancements since 2010, including jumps being modified, improved schooling and trialling requirements and stricter horse requirements.
Mr Downs said jumps racing played a “key role” in Warrnambool’s history and culture with streets named after Grand Annual Steeplechase winners like Dunroe Court, Thackeray Drive, Galleywood Court and Hoki Street.
"The 3280 postcode, which is Warrnambool, has got the highest horse ownership by numbers throughout the entire country,” he said.
“And the impact of pulling jumps racing would be dire, not just for the horse industry, but also the greater tourism industry in Warrnambool.”