Show Dancer died in a hurdle event last week. He was seven, and it was a tragic and brutal end to a life that had promised so much.
Bought by Gai Waterhouse as a yearling for $820,000, the Zabeel gelding had a pedigree that suggested better things than a lonely and unnecessary death in a race of no significance in a “sport” that can no longer be tolerated.
His name, like many martyrs, will assume greater significance in death than life because of the increased pressure it places on racing bodies to finally call a halt to a form of racing that kills 19 times as many as those who race on the flat.
Its dwindling number of supporters argue that, were it not for hurdle racing, these unwanted thoroughbreds would simply be killed earlier. It is a cynical claim and one that flies in the face of its advocates supposed love of animals.
The other suggestion is that these horses are bred to jump and actually enjoy it. Even more cynical and slightly more illogical. Horses are no more bred to jump than we are to dance. It’s a matter of training and some do it better than others.
It is always interesting to consider how far we have come in the last century or two. A hundred years ago the Wright brothers had just taken us off the ground.
A little later scientists took us into the unseen and — until then — unknown molecular world where mysteries and miracles anonymously abound.
Attitudes have changed,too. Women vote and it seems bizarre that it wasn’t always so (and,in some places, still isn’t). Racism is recognised for what it is and the wretched curse of homophobia is in decline. Hemingway’s much loved bull-fighting is nearly a memory even while idiots still get their egotistical kicks in Pamplona. I barrack for the bulls.
It’s always hard to predict what attitudes will change — and how. I would guess, however,that as we learn more about animals and their place in the scheme of things, we will hesitate before using them simply as a tool for our own entertainment.
One thing’s for sure: there will be no hurdle racing and nobody will mourn its passing.