Horse welfare: CT scans are now mandatory for runners in the Melbourne Cup

Anthony Van Dyck was a splendid Ireland-bred bay colt with a white blaze and a true champion. He was sired by one of the world’s leading stallions, Galileo, who won the title of champion sire of Great Britain and Ireland as many as ten times. Anthony Van Dyck was also half Australian, on the side of his dam, Believe’N’Succeed, a successful race mare “down under” before she was exported to Ireland. Australia, in the end, was his bane when he broke on the track of the Melbourne Cup 2020 with a fetlock fracture.  The unlucky Epsom Derby winner, one of the favorites of the Australian race, had to be euthanased. When punters want to learn how to bet on Melbourne Cup 2021, they have no difficulty in finding all the relevant information. Now Racing Victoria is feeling the pressure to take due care of horse welfare too.

Anthony van Dyck’s death was no isolated incident, but the seventh fatal casualty in a row at the Melbourne Cup. The bleak list of horse deaths includes Verema in 2013, Admire Rakti and Araldo in 2014, Red Cadeaux in 2015, Regal Monarch in 2017, and 5-year-old Irish thoroughbred The Cliffsofmoher in 2018. This last equine victim had a bad fall, broke his shoulder, and was killed shortly after that. All these casualties were international runners.

The death of Anthony van Dyck spurred animal rights organization PETA to call for an immediate investigation. They demanded that the fatality report by the Racing Victoria Integrity Services team, including the full results of the necropsy conducted by the University of Melbourne Veterinary Clinic & Hospital, be released to the public. The letter also questioned why Racing Victoria did not perform CT imaging on all horses before the race, as was done in 2019. Facts proved PETA right: the Racing Victoria report found that Anthony van Dyck was showing signs of lameness just weeks before the 2020 Melbourne Cup. A diagnosis of proximal suspensory desmitis (PSD) was made for all four of the stallion’s limbs.

And yet, the unlucky horse was not spared from running the race that cost him his life. What happened is that a panel of RV veterinarians and the stable’s vet concluded the stallion did not present with any symptoms needing further diagnosis or pain relief. They decided that a CT scan ahead of the November 3rd Cup was not necessary. Anthony van Dyck was given a nerve block injection on October 9th, a week before coming second in the Caulfield Cup.  Equine vets use nerve blocks, a form of anesthesia, to isolate the sore part of limbs. But to obtain more diagnostic information certainty about potential injuries, a CT scan is needed.

Through its chair Neil Wilson, Racing Victoria commented the report trying to somewhat justify what happened, saying that the PSD diagnosis was “considered unrelated to the fatal fractures sustained by the horse during the Cup.” But Wilson also admitted that “the report found that whilst current veterinary processes were followed, had mandatory precautionary diagnostic imaging been in place, it may have identified the potential for Anthony Van Dyck to incur a more serious racing injury.”

In conclusion, RV accepted 41 of 44 recommendations for the report, including that all international horses have a CT scan before and after arrival in Melbourne. The scan is now mandatory for all horses, including local runners, before running in the Cup.