Taylor Swift may not realise it, but she has delivered what could end up being one of the biggest headaches the multi-billion-dollar Australian thoroughbred racing industry has ever had to contend with.
News of the Taylor Swift performance had boosted ticket sales to this year’s Melbourne Cup.Credit:AP
While her management claimed "scheduling conflicts" as the reason for her sudden withdrawal from performing two songs at this year's Melbourne Cup, the announcement followed a week of solid protesting from animal rights activists. They campaigned especially hard on social media where Swift's core youth audience spend an inordinate number of hours scrolling down their smartphones.
Swift's cancellation comes after three months of negotiations. Yes, THREE months.
VRC executives told me personally last week that Swift had been furnished with a mountain of information about the treatment of horses and had signed on the dotted line for the Cup "eyes wide open". To all intents and purposes, the deal was done and dusted some time ago.
Given how planned Swift's calender is, with her movements scheduled down to the hour months, if not years, in advance, especially when she has new music to promote and a big fat rumoured $500,000 appearance fee to collect, a supposed "scheduling" conflict just doesn't quite add up.
What happened? Michael Gudinski had been pivotal in getting Swift to agree to perform at the Melbourne Cup.
Promoter Michael Gudinski, himself an owner of race horses, had been pivotal in securing the Swift deal for the Victorian Racing Club. Swift stayed at Gudinski's Mt Macedon bush retreat when she was last in Australia and the pair are close.
Trying to find a star of equal stature to Swift to headline the Cup is nigh on impossible now, given the amount of press Swift has inadvertently delivered to the protesters. Very few, if any, top shelf performers will want to risk being swallowed up in that scandal.
And all this on the eve of the busiest time at Australian race tracks with The Everest, The Turnbull Stakes, The Caulfield Cup and the Melbourne Cup all imminent.
But rather than directly address the growing questions about the treatment of horses, jockey clubs across Australia remain focussed on presenting their sport as a combination of glamour and great sportsmanship, deploying every marketing bell and whistle in an attempt to drown out anything potentially negative.
But it's not working.
Animal rights groups accuse the racing industry of being focussed on profit rather than animal welfare. And while this is clearly not the case for champion racehorses, they are in the minority.
Critics say too many horses are bred in order to discover a champion, which leads to something the industry calls "wastage", a term which does the sport no favours and fires up the critics.
Animal rights protests are becoming a familiar sight at race meetings across Australia.Credit:Angela Wylie
Wastage actually refers to the fate of these horses, which can number in the thousands, but does not necessarily mean death. Despite this, activists have latched on to the wastage issue in their bid to tarnish one of the great pillars of contemporary Australian culture: a day at the track.
While a proportion of healthy retired racehorses will become breeding, recreational or equestrian sport horses, others will be sent to knackeries or abattoirs to be slaughtered.
In recent years Racing Australia has introduced new rules which force owners and trainers to tell the authority what becomes of their retired horses.
The resulting data has shown that 90 per cent of horses are retired to the breeding, equestrian or recreational sectors, 5.5 per cent die naturally, 3.5 per cent are humanely euthanased, 0.5 per cent are sent to an abattoir and one per cent are unaccounted for.
But the percentages should be read in context of the overall numbers. There are 15,000 thoroughbred foals bred each year, and 31,000 race horses are in training across Australia at any given time.
Horse racing is an inherently dangerous sport, and Australian tracks are littered with fatalities – both human and equine – resulting from misadventure.
Presumably those protesting the loudest about thoroughbred racing are also averse to eating chicken, beef, pork, lamb and eggs, and boycott leather goods, wool, silk or any other material derived from animals.
Sadly, for the likes of self-proclaimed "animal lover" Taylor Swift, those sorts of details are largely forgotten in the debate which sees the baying mob circling with their pitchforks.
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