South Australia must hold its ground on jumps racing
On 1 October 2021, Racing SA announced there would be no jumps races in its 2022 season.
Animal lovers have campaigned against this dangerous activity for decades because of the large number of horses injured or killed as they try to clear obstacles while travelling at speed, in a pack.
Jumps horses also carry heavier weights and run longer distances than horses competing in flat races, which heightens the risk that horses will experience fatigue. Fatigue results in physiological changes as well as mental distress.
Racing Victoria banned jumps racing in 2009 – then changed their mind
In November 2009, after another horror season in Victoria in which 10 horses died in jumps races and trials, Racing Victoria announced the abolition of jumps racing. A comprehensive review of the sport had found the incidence of falls and fatalities had continued to rise, despite the implementation of safety recommendations of the Jones Report conducted in 2008.
 Judge David Jones (2008) Review of Jumps Racing in Victoria, Commissioned by Racing Victoria Limited.
“After careful consideration, it is the board’s view that there is an inevitability about the long-term future of jumps racing and, consequently, it is in the interests of all to provide some certainty and an appropriate transition to a Victorian racing industry without jumps racing.”
– Former Racing Victoria chairman Michael Duffy – November 2009
The Warrnambool/Oakbank connection
In South Australia, the hills town of Oakbank is the state’s home of jumps racing. In Victoria, it is Warrnambool in the state’s south-west. The Oakbank Easter Racing Carnival in April precedes Warrnambool’s biggest racing weekend in May, with many jumps horses competing at both tracks. (About a third of Victoria’s 60-plus jumps races each year occur in Warrnambool.)
At 5.5km, Warrnambool’s Grand Annual steeplechase is the longest horse race in Australia. It has 33 obstacles, more than any other steeplechase in the world.
The second longest horse race is the 4.9km Great Eastern Steeplechase at Oakbank, which requires horses to jump 24 obstacles.
Many horses have fallen, suffered injuries, been killed outright or euthanased due to injuries in Warrnambool’s Grand Annual Steeplechase and Oakbank’s Great Eastern Steeplechase.
In April 2017 the horse Wheeler Fortune crashed to the ground at the final hurdle at Oakbank and collided with another horse, Searaven. Wheeler Fortune sustained a fractured front leg. The green screen went up and he was euthanised. Two years later, at Oakbank’s Thomas Farms Steeple in April 2019, the horse Ours fell heavily at the 2nd to last steeple, then continued riderless. He is now ‘retired’. And in Oakbank’s 2021 feature steeplechase, Pentelligentsia knuckled severely after jumping the 23rd and Zed Em suffered heat stress.
Exposing horses to a high risk of suffering injury or death is not a tradition worth keeping.
Tradition should never serve as an excuse for animal suffering.
“A long and proud tradition” – that is how jumps racing supporters usually defend the activity.
But many traditions have been phased out as society evolves. Jumps racing should be one of them.
In New South Wales, jumps racing was prohibited under the state’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act in 1997.
RSPCA SA wants this cruel and unnecessary activity to be outlawed in this state too.
Jumps racing will never be safe for horses. That’s why RSPCA South Australia wants to ensure all jumps are permanently removed from the state’s racetracks – not just for the 2022 season.
Keep jumps racing out of SA
Every Australian state except Victoria has now stopped jumps racing – many of them decades ago.
New South Wales, where Australia’s first jumps event was held in 1832, banned jumps racing in 1997 under the state’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979. The Tasmanian racing industry voluntarily stopped holding jumps events in 2007 due to declining popularity and because jumps events were no longer economically viable. Western Australia hasn’t held jumps races since 1941, while the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland have only held occasional events.
RSPCA SA commends Racing SA for moving with the times
The decision of Racing SA not to schedule jumps races in 2022 is an important win for horse welfare in our state.
It comes in the face of irrefutable evidence that jumps racing is not only unacceptably dangerous (both for horses and jockeys), but that it is an activity that has well and truly lost its social license.
The evidence in support of a permanent end to jumps racing includes:
- A University of Melbourne study finding that horses competing in jumps races are nearly 19 times more likely to die than horses competing in flat races.
- A 1991 Senate Select Committee recommending that jumps racing be phased out over three years on animal welfare grounds. More than 30 years later, that expert recommendation is still being ignored by Racing Victoria.
- Attendances at South Australia’s main jumps racing event – the Oakbank Racing Carnival – dropping so low that the Oakbank Racing Club Board has been constantly trying to find new ways to attract bigger crowds, including free entry to some race days.
- A public opinion poll showing that 80% of respondents would attend the Oakbank Racing Carnival if jumps racing ceased.
- Major sponsors withdrawing support for the Oakbank Racing Carnival, including international paint company Dulux, Yalumba Wines, Coopers Brewery and the Australian Radio Network (owners of Mix 102.3FM).
- A 2016 South Australian Parliamentary Select Committee report into jumps racing in South Australia confirming what many of us already knew – that “….jumps racing presents a greater risk of injury or fatality to horses and jockeys than flat racing, with steeplechase races presenting the greatest risk”.
- Almost all of the 1,811 submissions received by the South Australian Select Committee supporting an end to jumps racing in SA.
RSPCA South Australia thanks those in the industry or connected to it who had the courage to speak up
“Providing there is the continual community resentment towards the cruelty association with jumps racing, you’ll find the community pressure will come to bear.”
– Former South Australian Jockey Club chief executive officer Steve Ploubidis, May 2014.
“It’s time for all the trainers and jockeys who are against jumps racing to speak up and have it banned. It’s barbaric and it has no place in the 21st century.”
– Former South Australian racing minister Leon Bignell, April 2017.
How you can help keep jumps racing out of SA
We can all help stop jumps racing ever returning to South Australia. Here’s how:
- Learn the facts by reading more about jumps racing.
- Write to South Australia’s leaders and ask them to prohibit jumps racing under SA’s Animal Welfare Act.