The Melbourne Cup carnival is yet to begin, but already there has been drama with officials ordering the withdrawal of two leading international chances for the big race, following concerns over their fitness based on standing CT scan results.
- Racing Victoria pulled international horses Marmelo and Ispolini from Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup, saying scans showed incomplete leg fractures
- There are no official routes of appeal against decisions to withdraw horses from the Cup
- The Cup field will be decided after the Hotham Handicap and final declarations for the race, both on Saturday
The two horses out of the running for next Tuesday’s $7.3 million Melbourne Cup are English horse Marmelo and Godolphin’s entry Ispolini, but the connections of at least one of the entries has reacted angrily to the decision and is not ruling out legal action.
The announcements came on Wednesday night after vets’ reports were received on both horses stating that they would not be fit to run if the race was held on the day of final acceptances (this Saturday), which is one of the conditions of entry.
Racing Victoria said both horses were referred to the University of Melbourne’s Equine Clinic for standing CT scans on the weekend after showing signs of soreness.
The results indicated that Marmelo had incomplete fractures of the near-fore cannon bone and off-hind cannon bone, while Ispolini had “pre-fracture pathology in the horse’s right front cannon bone”, according to Racing Victoria.
Stewards made their decision “to ensure the wellbeing and safety” of both horses.
Racing Victoria upgraded their monitoring of Cup horses following the death of Godolphin’s Hamada in a trackwork accident in 2018, and the Aidan O’Brien horse TheCliffsofmoher, who broke down during last year’s race and was euthanased on the track.
Also, the ABC’s recent investigation into slaughter of ex-racehorses has reportedly prompted officials to be extra vigilant for horse welfare issues during this year’s carnival.
Marmelo, which came a close second to Cross Counter in last year’s race and ninth in 2017, had been seen as a leading chance to win the Cup at the third time of asking.
His trainer, Hughie Morrison, reacted with anger and frustration to the news of his horse’s removal from the field, saying his stable’s English-based CT scan expert Ian Wright did not agree with the findings of incomplete fractures.
“They [the experts] don’t agree with the findings … I can assure you that if the horse had an incomplete fracture it would be walking lame, the horse wouldn’t be allowed to be ridden it would be that bad,” Morrison told the Racing and Sport radio network.
“We were told the horses would be reviewed in England by Racing Victoria vets, he was trotted up, they approved him to come here.
“He [Marmelo] is moving exactly the same here as he was back home, and to be honest, if they felt there was any concern … they should have ordered a CT scan at Newmarket [in England] before he even got on the airplane.”
Morrison expressed frustration at the process, involving Racing Victoria vet Grace Forbes and head of integrity Jamie Stier.
“It’s quite frightening, that two people [Forbes and Stier] can make a decision about a horse, and everybody confirms it … we weren’t even allowed to look at her report, prior to their meeting to discuss it,” he said.
“It was a closed-door [meeting], [they said] we’re getting on with it.
“They were the police, the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the hangman all in one room.
“I don’t know [what the next step is], I don’t know what the appeals system is here, but there must be thousands of punters out there who’ve backed him, seen the television, seen him working, seen him happy and [now] feel that they’ve lost their money for no good reason.”
One of Marmelo’s owners, John O’Neill, was asked on racing and sport broadcaster RSN whether connections would consider legal action to resolve the issue.
“Absolutely,” he replied.
Scans available if concerns held over horses, says RV
On Thursday, Stier said that if there were concerns about any horse remaining in contention to make the field, officials would order standing CT scans.
He said there was no plan to scan the entire field.
“But our veterinary surgeons as we speak are out and about conducting pre-race checks on all the horses engaged in the Melbourne Cup, and should they have any concerns similar to these horses, then those horses will be required to undergo a CT scan and further diagnostic work prior to the declarations,” Stier told RSN.
“If the connections are considering [legal action] they will explore those avenues,” he said.
“There is no right of appeal against the decision to withdraw the horse, so that’s a matter for them again.”
Three other international horses also received CT scans this spring.
Following the running of the Caulfield Cup, Red Verdon and Gold Mount were scanned — Red Verdon showed it had a bone injury and Gold Mount a ligament injury.
The Ian Williams-trained Gold Mount has been retired from racing, while Red Verdon has been ruled out of the Melbourne spring racing.
Cross Counter, which did not run in the Caulfield Cup, was scanned and was ruled clear of injury.
The second horse ruled out, Ispolini, was trained by Charlie Appleby for Godolphin.
Godolphin won the race for the first time in 2018 with Cross Counter, who will try to achieve back-to-back victories next Tuesday.
It is now the racing operation’s only hope for the race after Red Galileo — who ran fifth in the Geelong Cup last week and was not yet qualified for the Cup — was ruled out for the spring with an injury in trackwork.
Appleby’s travelling foreman, Chris Connett, said the stable was disappointed about the decision to withdraw Ispolini.
“Obviously horse welfare is at the forefront and always is with any decision with our team and when you come to different racing jurisdictions you have to abide by their rules, and that’s what they’ll do,” Connett said.
Victorian Racing Minister Martin Pakula backed the decision to rule both horses out of the race.
“As I understand it in this situation scans have shown that the horses are unfit,” Mr Pakula said.
“I’m not going to make a judgement about that, I’m not a vet.
“But I certainly have faith in the Racing Victoria veterinarians to make decisions about the best interests of horses.”