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Trainers, breeders chip in to fund horse welfare task force

February 8, 2020 — 12.05 am

The biggest names in racing including trainers Chris Waller, David Hayes and Gai Waterhouse are pledging funds towards a new horse welfare task force to create better outcomes for retired thoroughbreds.

The racing industry was thrown into chaos on the eve of the spring carnival last year when ABC's 7.30 revealed a number of ex-racehorses were ending up at knackeries and abattoirs.

Amid growing frustration at the lack of a national response, Thoroughbred Breeders Australia chief executive Tom Reilly has piloted a campaign to get together an independent four-person panel, to be chaired by former Victorian premier and racing minister Denis Napthine, to develop a scheme for retired racehorses.

Mr Waller will be one of a number of senior industry figures involved in a steering group to help guide Dr Napthine's panel, but Mr Reilly said information from outside current industry thinking will be vital to achieving the best post-career outcomes for horses.

Widespread buy-in from industry participants will fund the task force, which will aim to present a final report with recommendations to federal sport and agriculture ministers and state and territory racing ministers.

The task force plus any research they commission will cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"This is getting funded by participant groups, rather than regulators," Mr Reilly said.

"Every breeder, owner, trainer, pretty much every club I've spoken to, is happy to put money in because they know welfare has to be our No.1 priority.

"We've got to start from a position whereby, if we can do better, we need to do better. That has to be at the heart of everything we do, especially in relation to welfare."

Among those pitching in are Mr Waller, Mr Hayes, Mrs Waterhouse, Ciaron Maher, Mick Price, Tony Gollan, Tony McEvoy, Bjorn Baker, the Melbourne and Victoria Racing clubs, the Brisbane Racing Club, the TAB, BetEasy, the Australian jockeys' and trainers' associations and breeders from across the country.

"I think it's got to be seen that we're leading the way," Mr Waller told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. "Nationally there needs to be enforceable standards. I think we've got to work together so that on a national front everybody's doing the same thing, not just three-quarters of Australia.

"We've got to make sure we're on the same page." Mr Waller said horse welfare had been an issue for a long time but a number of positive outcomes had been achieved since the airing of the ABC expose.

"There's been a lot more emphasis to ensure that if we sell a horse, that the people that we're selling it to are known to us and they're aware of their obligations and things like that," he said.

"There's certainly been a lot more awareness since that report. "It's been a big improvement but there's still that certain part to go."

Also on the panel will be Dr Bidda Jones from the RSPCA, Dr Ken Jacobs from the Australian Veterinary Association and Jack Lake, who was a senior adviser on agriculture policy for the Hawke, Keating and Rudd governments.

Victorian racing minister Martin Pakula threw his support behind the proposal, while Racing Victoria, Racing NSW and Racing Australia have also endorsed the initiative. "Racing Australia welcomes the initiative of the Thoroughbred Breeders Australia to form a task force to appraise the critical issue of equine welfare," Racing Australia chairman Greg Nichols said.

"Racing Australia, our state and territory principal racing authorities and TBA share a common aspiration of validating the quality of equine welfare in Australia to ensure Australia is regarded as being the standard-bearer within global thoroughbred racing."

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