The One Horse Race


It’s only a bit of fun. Yet strangely, it’s an essential part of out nation’s psyche. The Melbourne Cup, the Horse Race That Stops A Nation. It’s a day when a non-gambler like me will buy a ticket in a sweepstake, and take an interest in the winner of the race at Flemington.
But even when I lived in Melbourne, I never roused more interest than that. If anything, the second Tuesday in November brings out my inner wowser, and I feel sorry for the millions who prop up the alcohol industry today, when it may be the only thing they are capable of propping up.
We look back in 2014 fifty years to zoos where proud lions where imprisoned in tiny cages in which they could barely turn around, and felt sad because their coats were mangy and there was defeat in their eyes. Today’s zoos with savannah spaces and artificial dens lions can seek out are much better. We can feel some pride ourselves that we care for lions much better and that our zoos are becoming 21st Century Noah’s Arks conserving endangered species.
Another century and a half earlier our great-great grandfathers gathered to stir up roosters to scratch and peck each other to death while howling humans urged them on to greater acts of blood-letting. In the time of the first Queen Elizabeth, bears were pitted against each other in the ring. Are we not now so much more humane in the way we treat animals?
The excuse then was that the animals enjoyed it. Maybe the animals did take some pleasure in pleasing the men who had fed and cared for them, preparing for them to take to the ring. Maybe they did. But maybe, if you could give them the whole choice, the animals would have preferred not to be there at all.
Of course, today’s horse-racing industry is highly regulated, and vets and stewards put a stop to egregious cruelty. But in another hundred years, we may look back at the way we bred horses for racing, horses with ankles as slender as humans’ so they break down, horses who are temperamental, for some reason objecting to running against the herd when nature wants them to run with it, and with some pride in ourselves for stopping the cruel business of making animals race for the pleasure of humans.
Then we will say proudly, we are the Nation that Stopped the Horse Race.
But I can’t say that today, can I?

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