Champion's demise a sad day for racing, but accidents will happen

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 May, 2008, 12:00am

The sad breakdown and subsequent death of Absolute Champion in Singapore on Sunday night has inevitably raised questions about procedures leading up to these big races.

The Singapore Turf Club has a public relations disaster on its hands, with some professionals questioning - rightly or wrongly - whether Absolute Champion should have been allowed to start. And the racing crowds were horrified at the spectacle of a star international horse being put down on what they were told was the biggest day of racing in the Lion City.

There have been no winners in the Absolute Champion tragedy. The horse himself is gone, having been humanely destroyed after shattering his right fetlock joint in the early stages of the feature sprint at Kranji.

Fortunately, jockey Brett Prebble was able to pull the gelding up quickly and avoid injury himself.

Absolute Champion has been fighting a problem with one front foot and his trainer, David Hall, has done a great job in keeping the 2006 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint hero going, not only competing, but winning again this season at Group One level.

When he thought he had the problem licked last Monday morning, he brought in another expert to give a professional opinion that had the potential to make or break the Singapore assault.

Prebble, who has been runner-up to Douglas Whyte on the jockeys' premiership for the past three seasons, had two rides on Absolute Champion during the lead-up week to get a feel of his soundness and give a verdict.

An emphatic 'no' from Prebble at any stage would have resulted in the venture coming to a standstill. Prebble's credentials as a judge of such matters are widely acknowledged through the community of racing professionals.

So when the jockey said 'the horse felt fine, I couldn't fault him', Hall was happy to proceed.

Neither Prebble nor any other jockey in the same situation would pass a horse to race that felt unsound, or outside that individual horse's normal parameters. Jockeys don't gamble with their own lives that way.

Dr Eugene Reynders, the top vet at the Singapore Turf Club, said the catastrophic injury Absolute Champion suffered was 'unrelated' to the feet problems he had suffered but overcome in the week leading up to the big race.

Ultimately, the decision had to rest with Hall, who made that decision after consulting his trusted jockey Prebble. The Melbourne Cup winning trainer and the champion jockey each have impeccable credentials and not a blemish against their names in such matters.

We must, and should, accept they made the right call for the right reasons regardless of how sad the ultimate outcome proved to be.

When the filly Eight Belles broke down after passing the post in the Kentucky Derby this month, the US industry was besieged by negative, media reaction.

Whether we are talking about Hong Kong or Singapore, the lessons are the same. While we must be ever vigilant, we are dealing with animals of mere flesh and blood. And even with the best advice, accidents can and will happen.