IN THE age of outrage, the image of whip-wielding midgets thrusting thoroughbreds down the straight while frenzied punters urge them on is bound to court controversy.
And so it has.
Just this week, animal activists have picketed the famous Warrnambool racing carnival, demanding an end to the “barbaric” sport of jumps racing.
Wielding placards emblazoned with “Horse racing kills” and “Ban jumps racing”, the liberationists hurled guilt grenades at racegoers as they entered the course.
It’s dangerous to mount a counter argument in the face of such emotive political correctness, but here goes.
Horse racing is only cruel if you ascribe human traits to animals, a practise known as anthropomorphisising (for those that like to sound clever).
Just as it’s in the nature of animal activists to feel morally superior to the rest of us, it’s in the nature of thoroughbreds to run.
They were bred for that express purpose – just like Clydesdales are bred to tow heavy loads – and their whole physiological system has adapted to allow them to race.
Running actually makes them happy.
What’s more, most are treated like prize poodles, kept in air-conditioned stables, fussed over by strappers and fed top quality food.
Most of the thousands of people that work in the industry – trainers, jockeys, vets, farriers, stable-hands – are animal lovers themselves, not sadists that are party to some elaborate animal cruelty conspiracy.
Of course, there are pockets of cruelty, but that in itself is not an argument to close down a sport worth about $8 billion a year to the national economy.
If you find betting on animals repugnant, that’s your prerogative.
But it has nothing to do with animal cruelty.
Racing also provides an important social function.
It’s quintessentially Australian – a heady cocktail of sun, sport, fashion, drinking and punting.
Our cup day is an institution, an event almost as old as Wagga itself.
And, as those attending the Gold Cup today will experience, it brings together the community and allows them to relax, network and celebrate.
So today, ignore the bleatings of the negative nellies and focus on enjoying the neddies – guilt-free.