horse racing

Melbourne Cup: Horses Racing for their Lives

Cruelty prevails in the horse racing industry. Join us in saying Nup to the Cup


The Melbourne Cup is held annually on the first Tuesday in November, falling on November 6th this year. Many have seen Melbourne Cup Day as one of revelry, fashion and fun, woven into Australia’s national fabric. With growing reports of cruelty on and off the racetrack however, Australians are no longer turning a blind eye to the suffering of horses in the racing industry.

What is the Melbourne Cup?

The Melbourne Cup was first held in 1861 at Flemington Racecourse, Victoria[1] having been held at the same location since. The race is a lucrative affair, with total prize money for this year’s Lexus Melbourne Cup being $8 million[2]. In 2020, $221.6 million was bet on the Melbourne Cup[3]. The race is for thoroughbred horses aged three and over; and covers a distance of 3,200 metres – lasting for approximately 3 minutes and 20 seconds[4],[5]. While the race itself may be short, there is an insurmountable amount of suffering.

Horses suffering on the track

Research from the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses’ Deathwatch found that 168 horses died on Australian racetracks from August 2022 to July this year, equalling one death every two days. This is up from the previous year where, at least 139 horses were killed on Australian racetracks, equating to one death every two and a half days[6]. The most common cause of death was found to be catastrophic front limb injury, while at least nine horses died due to cardiac issues[7]. In 2020, the death of Anthony Van Dyck marked the sixth horse death in the Melbourne Cup race, and the seventh death on Melbourne Cup Day since 2013[8].

Beyond fatalities, horses continue to suffer in various ways during races such as the Melbourne Cup:

  • Tongue Ties:
    During races, tongue ties are used to immobilise a horse’s tongue to increase performance[9]; with 72% of thoroughbred trainers using tongue ties[10]. Tongue ties can cause horses difficulty in swallowing, pain, distress and cuts to the tongue, while the restricted blood flow can cause permanent tissue damage[11]
  • Bleeding of the Lungs:
    Bleeding of the lungs, or Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage is highly prevalent in racing thoroughbreds[12]. This is thought to occur because strenuous exercise in horses, such as racing, causes burst capillaries, which in turn leads to blood in the lungs and airways[13]. Blood in the airways can impair the exchange of oxygen with carbon dioxide, and bleeding of the lungs can cause severe and ongoing pathological reactions[14]
  • Age Related Injuries
    While horses three years and over can enter the Melbourne Cup, horses do not reach skeletal maturity until five years old and as such risk racing injuries such as ruptured ligaments, fractures and musculoskeletal trauma[15], [16].
  • Use of Whips:
    Horses can be whipped up to 5 times prior to the final 100 metres, and an unlimited number of times in the last 100 metres, at the discretion of the rider[17], [18]. A recent study by researchers at the University of Sydney found that when whipped, horses feel the same amount of pain as a human would[19]. In recent years, several jockeys have been fined for exceeding whipping limits during the Melbourne Cup[20]

Click here to read FOUR PAWS’ collation of facts about horses, including that horses can suffer depression as a result of excessive and violent training.

Horses suffering off the track

The suffering of horses is not restricted to the racetrack. A former winning Melbourne Cup trainer was charged in 2019 with “engaging in the torturing, abusing, overworking and terrifying” of three racehorses in relation to the 2018 Melbourne Cup[21].

Moreover, there are serious issues with “wastage,” a term used to describe both horses bred to race who never make it onto the track, or those who are retired from the industry. It has been well reported that many horses suffer distressing welfare issues and slaughter after being discarded from racing[22]. Only 30% of horses bred for racing take part in a race, while those that do race are retired after three years on average[23].

horse amongst greenery

A 2019 expose by ABC’s 7.30 program found that hundreds of retired Australian racehorses were being sent to slaughterhouses, in breach of existing rules and guarantees[24]. Prior to their deaths, these horses were subject to cruelty such as electric shocks and being trapped in “killboxes”.[25] Similarly, while Racing NSW introduced laws in 2017 that retired racehorses could not be sent to knackeries either directly or indirectly, an investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age found that retired racehorses were still being killed at NSW knackeries for pet food[26]. At present, Racing NSW is the only state with rules prohibiting the sending of a horse to an abattoir or knackery[27].

Changes to Regulations

After a string of fatalities at the Melbourne Cup, Racing Victoria commissioned a review and implemented a variety of new measures such as the use of CT scanning to ensure horse health prior to racing[28]. This did not go smoothly however, with the scanner breaking down and interim measures having to be put in place[29], [30]. Not all injuries are pre-existing, and there remain concerns that horses from overseas are at greater risk of injuring themselves on the harder Australian racetracks[31].

Growing disinterest in the Melbourne Cup

As the public has become more aware of the cruelty involved in the racing industry thanks to investigations, reports and scandals, attitudes towards the Melbourne Cup have shifted. Records show that attendance at the Melbourne Cup had been in a steady decline prior to and irrespective of COVID restrictions[32]. Fewer Australians are also now watching this event on television, or gambling on horse racing in general[33].

The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses hosted the first Nup to the Cup event in 2010 as an alternative event for people to enjoy themselves without supporting animal cruelty[34]. There are now Nup to the Cup events celebrated across the country. In 2019, #nuptothecup was the third most used Twitter hashtag in relation to the Melbourne Cup, with #animalcruelty and #horseracingkills also appearing in the top ten[35]. Moreover, companies such as Australian Ethical Super have stated their opposition to the event[36], while fashion brands are also moving away from advertising their clothes to race day attendees[37].

At FOUR PAWS Australia, our vision is for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding.

Together, we can show the racing industry that we as Australians are saying Nup to the Cup.

helping horses

our work for horses

Learn more


 [1] National Museum of Australia [Accessed 24/10/2022]
[2] Victoria Racing Club [Accessed 24/10/2022]
[3] 9 News [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[4] Britannica {Accessed 24/10/2022]

[5] Racing Base [Accessed 24/10/2022]
[6] Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[7] Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[8] The Conversation [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[9] Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[10] Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[11] RSPCA [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[12] Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[13] Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[14] Racing Victoria [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[15] Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[16] Sydney Morning Herald [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[17] Herald Sun [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[18] Racing Victoria [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[19] The University of Sydney [Accessed 25/10/2022],First%20conclusive%20evidence%20horses%20hurt%20by,whips%20don't%20aid%20jockeys&text=Two%20papes%20published%20in%20journal,does%20not%20enhance%20race%20safety.
[20] The Age [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[21] ABC News [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[22] ABC News [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[23] Animals Australia [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[24] ABC News [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[25] ABC News [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[26] Sydney Morning Herald [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[27] The Age [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[28] The Age [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[29] [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[30] The Age [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[31] The Age [Accessed 25/10/2022]
[32] The Guardian [Accessed 24/10/2022]
[33] The Guardian [Accessed 24/10/2022]

[35] The Conversation [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[36] Australian Ethical [Accessed 25/10/2022]

[37] Australian Financial Review [Accessed 25/10/2022]
Isilay Kizilcik

Isilay Kizilcik

Former Supporter Relations Coordinator, FOUR PAWS Australia

Isilay is a member of the Supporter Relations Team at FOUR PAWS Australia, having joined in 2019 to help make the world a better place for animals.

She is passionate about animal welfare and protection, and has worked in this space for six years. She has also volunteered with various animal protection organisations.

Share now!