The Racing Victoria board will be asked to relax a stringent set of safety measures that ensured last year’s Melbourne Cup was run fatality free, to attract more international horses to the race.
The controversial “nuclear” scintigraphy scan was brought in to make the Melbourne Cup safer, part of measures adopted by Racing Victoria a year ago after a number of deaths in the famous race over a number of years. The RV board will consider a proposal, at a meeting later this month, that the scan no longer be mandatory.
Changes will be made to the scintigraphy scan policy for international spring carnival competitors.Credit:Chris Hopkins
The proposal would have the full-body scintigraphy scans used as a secondary diagnostic tool for any international horse who poses an unacceptable risk to a catastrophic injury, rather than mandatory for every traveller. That may be for a horse who fails a vet examination while still overseas or presents with lameness, or if an initial CT or MRI scan detects a cause for concern.
While last year’s Cup was run safely, champion Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien was ultimately deterred from bringing horses to Melbourne due to what he described as the “nuclear scan”.
Prominent owner Nick Williams said in August that he would not import horses to Australia in 2022 if the “invasive” protocol remained in place, while O’Brien’s son Joseph – who won last year’s Cox Plate with State Of Rest – described the mandatory scan as a “nightmare”, due to the sedation required and the impact it has on a horse’s training program.
“I can’t tell you how much of a struggle it was to get through all the hoops and the scans,” O’Brien said last year.
“The scans are not too bad, but the horses have to get sedated every time and for the scintigraphy, they spend three days at an equine hospital which is three days out of their routine and their environment.
“If I’d known how difficult it would’ve been to get through all the hoops, I’m not sure we would have even gone down in the first place.”
Of the 41 new safety measures imposed in 2021, it remains the major point of contention, not only with trainers and owners of internationally trained horses, but also for the Moonee Valley Racing Club (MVRC).
The field for the Cox Plate was heavily impacted by the absence of Aidan O’Brien, despite the Melbourne Cup being the race of most concern from a fatality point of view.
State Of Rest won last year’s Cox Plate for Joseph O’Brien.Credit:Getty
“We’d like to see a more targeted approach there,” MVRC chief executive Michael Browell said of the scintigraphy scan.
“Horses who have had previous injuries or horses that present lame, probably put them through [the scintigraphy scan], but if a horse has been fit and well throughout its career, I’d suggest those horses may not need the scintigraphy scan.”
But the mandatory standing CT scan for all local and international Melbourne Cup runners – at Werribee for Victorian-trained gallopers or in Sydney for NSW-trained horses in the lead-up to the race – was seen as a significant reason why last year’s Cup was run safely.
Despite Victoria’s CT scanner temporarily breaking down just a week out from the race, the scans that were done found underlying issues with Australian-trained stayers Young Werther and Harpo Marx, ultimately putting their health and safety ahead of the Cup.
Racing Victoria’s chief executive Giles Thompson said earlier this month that tweaks to the safety protocols were needed to make sure the spring carnival remained an international event.
“We need to make sure we have a quality engagement from an international perspective for our carnival, it’s an important part of our carnival, it’s what makes it unique as well,” Thompson said.
“It’s about quality and safety, and if there are changes we can make to get that balance, then they will be going to the March board.
“We’re not going to do nothing, I can give you that insight. Clearly some of the challenges and some of the hurdles we put in place were more onerous than they needed to be, and we don’t want to stop good, healthy, competitive, quality horses from coming to compete in our spring carnival. We want them to come.”
Steve Rosich, chief executive at the Victoria Racing Club, said his club and Racing Victoria were on the same page when it came to reviewing the protocols.
“[The two focuses are] to ensure not only the safety benchmark is met, but the processes are appropriate for all participants, and clearly showcase the Lexus Melbourne Cup and the broader Melbourne Cup Carnival here at Flemington as an international event and strong international participation.”
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