Horse deaths prompt big changes for Melbourne Cup

Wide-ranging changes have been confirmed for this year’s Melbourne Cup and beyond, after a report into the cause of several recent fatalities in the race that stops a nation. 

Last year, Anthony Van Dyk became the sixth horse since 2013 to die during or after running in the Melbourne Cup. 

Many of the runners to die travelled from overseas to compete, and measures announced today have specifically targeted international horses. 

The Epsom Derby winner’s death prompted an extensive review, and on Wednesday, Racing Victoria endorsed 41 changes to be implemented for the 2021 Melbourne Cup, including: 

  • International horses competing in the Melbourne spring carnival will be capped at 24

  • All international horses must be scanned prior to travelling to Melbourne

  • International horses will be permitted to start in only one other race before running in the Melbourne Cup

  • All horses – international and local – must undergo a CT scan of their distal limbs before being permitted to compete in the Melbourne Cup

Racing Victoria chairman Brian Kruger says: "Racing Victoria, and the broader racing industry, has a duty to provide for the safety and welfare of every horse in every race. 

"The saddening events of last spring showed us that more needed to be done to help reduce serious racing injuries, particularly among international horses targeting our Spring Racing Carnival.

"We know some of these initiatives will be onerous on connections, but we make no apology for making the safety of horses our priority. 

"Our sole focus is on ensuring that horses and riders compete safely, and we are committed to delivering these important enhancements in 2021 and beyond."

Three recommendations were rejected, including a reduction in the Melbourne Cup field size from 24 to 20 runners. Racing Victoria said there was limited data to support the impact of this change, and noted that none of the fatalities in the race have been caused by interference. 

There was also no evidence that the horses most at risk of injury were the last four horses included in the field through the order of entry.

A report into the death of Anthony Van Dyk found the horse had been diagnosed with Proximal Suspensory Desmitis (PSD) in all four limbs following his arrival in Australia. The condition is considered low risk for serious injury, and considered unrelated to the fatal fractures suffered in the Melbourne Cup. 

The horse raced in the Caulfield Cup, did not require any medical intervention or pain relief, and did not present with any conditions or changes in its gait that would ordinarily necessitate further diagnostic procedures to be undertaken.

The report acknowledged that despite the absence of clinical signs which would prompt further diagnostic examination, precautionary scans may have identified the potential for a future serious racing injury based on the findings of the post-mortem.