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Melbourne Cup 2022 horse deaths: Why scratchings of Dunston, Lunar Flare, Point Nepean should be celebrated

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While the late withdrawals have left many connections heartbroken after months of preparation for the $7.75m race at Flemington – they should be celebrated as an indication of the racing industry’s genuine care for its horses.

Lunar Flare, Point Nepean, Loft, Makram and Caulfield Cup winner Durston may have all been cleared to compete in previous iterations of the 3200m classic, but in 2020 everything changed with the death of Anthony Van Dyck on Cup day.

The four-year-old Irish stallion was lame a month before he shattered his fetlock (similar to the ball of its foot) in the closing stages of 2020’s race.

A Racing Victoria (RV) report later revealed despite concerns about the horse’s fitness in the weeks leading up to the first Tuesday in November, a CT scan was never performed.

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A public outcry ensued and soon after RV introduced new health screening protocols to minimise the chances of horses getting injured or dying in the Melbourne Cup.

Following the deaths of six Cup starters in eight years, the new protocols meant there would be far greater veterinary oversight in the lead-up to the race from 2021 onwards.

Bone scans and CT/MRI scans were mandated for runners within two-to-six weeks of travel, while a vet appointed by RV would inspect each horse during their pre-travel quarantine.

RV had also mandated the use of its $1.27 million standing CT scanner at the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Equine Centre in Werribee, which can scan horses with limited sedation.

While some the scintigraphy (nuclear bone scan) is no longer compulsory ahead of this year’s great race, overall the horses competing in the 2022 Melbourne Cup have been and will be looked after better than they ever have before.

In 2021 all 23 horses that started the Melbourne Cup finished the race without any major issues, and expectations are that given the strict checks of the past week, all 22 horses competing in this year’s race will also complete it without injury.

RV’s head veterinarian Dr. Grace Forbes told News Corp the goal this year would be to follow and improve on the success of the 2021 race.

“Last year was successful, in that we didn’t have any serious injuries, but that’s only one year,” Dr. Forbes said.

“We commit every year to reviewing our protocols and we’ll do the same at the end of this carnival … see if there’s anything we can improve upon in the future.”

Dr. Forbes declared “the safety and welfare of every horse is equally important”.

“We do understand the media and general public have more of a focus on what we’re doing, but what we’re doing is the same all of the time,” she explained.

“Any of the decisions we make, we make a point of it when we go behind the barriers, I don’t know what the horses are, I don’t know which horse is the favourite, they’re just horses competing.

“We are all very cognisant of the amount of work that goes into getting a horse to the races and it doesn’t matter what race that is, whether it is Melbourne Cup or Casterton Cup, we apply the same level of diligence and care to all of those decisions.”

The hyper-vigilance from Dr. Forbes’ team of roughly 60 staff was on full display on Thursday with the Chris Waller-trained Durston ruled out of the Melbourne Cup after scans revealed a small “grey area” in its left hind leg.

While specialists weren’t entirely sure if the finding was of any real concern, they decided the best course of action would be to rule the highly-fancied horse out of the race.

Legendary trainer Chris Waller summed up the situation perfectly after learning the news, while accepted it was “disappointing” and “heartbreaking” for connections.

“The specialists cannot determine whether it is old or new, or whether it is even something to be concerned about, but we must respect this,” Waller said.

“It is all about safety, for the horse, and for the rider and the longevity of the horses. It is very disappointing for all connections of the horse, as well as my stable, because so much time and effort goes into these horses; it’s just heartbreaking.

“Durston is sound, he galloped well on Tuesday morning and my vet trotted him up following this however we must respect modern science and learn from this. The horse will undergo an MRI scan to investigate further.”

However not everyone is happy with the stringent measures, with Lunar Flare’s trainer Grahame Begg hitting out at the decision to scratch the seven-year-old mare on Tuesday.

“She improved markedly overnight, but in their opinion, not enough,” Begg said.

“To be truthful, we thought she was good enough to run. But it’s the Melbourne Cup and they (Racing Victoria) are under pressure and they want horses to be absolutely perfect.

“I can understand that but there will be other horses going to the races today that will trot out a lot worse than her.”

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