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A sprint to the end of Australian horseracing as we know it - a global perspective


19 October 2012

Associate Professor Phil McManus: "While our historically close relationship with horses has almost completely disappeared, the horseracing industry it created is now part of a global market and faces major challenges."
Associate Professor Phil McManus: "While our historically close relationship with horses has almost completely disappeared, the horseracing industry it created is now part of a global market and faces major challenges."

What will the future of Australian thoroughbred horseracing look like in 10 years?

A vision of the future could be a Melbourne Cup with no Australian competitors, races without real horses apart from the occasional event at racinos (racing casinos) and racing entertainment complexes, all country race tracks closed and punters watching and betting online on Australian-bred horses in overseas races. It could also include a ban on artificial reproduction overturned and thoroughbred breeding dominated by artificial insemination and cloning.

The Australian horseracing industry is part of a global industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars. A new book by Associate Professor Phil McManus and Raewyn Graham from the University of Sydney (and Glenn Albrecht from Murdoch University), titled The Global Horseracing Industry: social, economic, environmental and ethical perspectives looks at the contemporary horseracing industry and its possible future from economic, social, ethical, geographic and environmental perspectives.

The book draws on six years of research in Australia, the US, Canada and New Zealand, and explores the economic structure of the global racing business, its social and cultural roots and ethical issues ranging from reproduction to the use of the whip.

"Racing in rural areas of Australia has taken place almost since settlement and we have more racetracks per head of population than anywhere in the world," said Associate Professor McManus, from the University's School of Geosciences.

"While our historically close relationship with horses has almost completely disappeared the horseracing industry it created is now part of a global market and faces major challenges."

Associate Professor McManus's father trained harness racing horses in a country town in Western Australia. "That's where my interest in horses started. The economic, technological and cultural changes since then mean the world of thoroughbred racing and breeding is now experiencing unforeseen transformations," he said.

Among the issues covered in the book are the following.

  • How economic imperatives are skewing Australian thoroughbred breeding towards the production of 'sprinters' who excel at speed over short distances, not 'stayers' who can race over longer distances such as the Melbourne Cup. "It means owners can get a faster return on breeding, which is where the real money is, but there is a concern the emphasis on breeding for speed is undermining other qualities such as soundness," McManus said.
  • How online gambling and multimillion dollar entertainment racing complexes will cement the trend of the horse being a mere 'betting tool'. Rural race tracks will close and rich breeders will concentrate on breeding horses for the emerging markets in China, India and Brazil.
  • If the ban on artificial reproductive technology, currently under challenge in Australia's Federal Court, is overthrown it will revolutionise breeding and the cultures of 'tradition' and 'nature' underlying the horseracing industry. Both aspects are highly constructed. Natural breeding, for example, can see 'shuttle stallions' being shipped across the world, servicing over 150 mares a season in each hemisphere. The mares, in their turn, are stimulated by hormonal drugs and artificial light.
  • Black Caviar's popularity is partly built on the ethical appeal of not being 'whipped to the line' instead appearing to win with apparent ease and enjoyment. Ethical questions over whipping, jumps racing and the disposal of horses will continue to shape the industry.
  • Case studies of contested breeding and racing landscapes in Victoria and the Upper Hunter in NSW where, respectively, disputes over jumps racing and the introduction of mining have taken place.

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Media enquiries: Verity Leatherdale, 02 9351 4312, 0403 067 342, verity.leatherdale@sydney.edu.au