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Aussie jumps racing off after deaths

THREE dead horses in two days at a country carnival may have spelt the end of more than 150 years of jumps racing in sports-mad Australia, amid mounting criticism from animal rights groups.

In Warrnambool, a country town about four hours southwest of Melbourne, thousands of fans yesterday saw top weight Clearview Bay break its neck in the Grand Annual Steeplechase, the annual May carnival's top draw and one of Australia's most famous jumping meetings.

The fall, in which the jockey was taken to hospital with a suspected broken collar bone, followed a gelding's death after a fall earlier yesterday and another on the second day of the three-day carnival on Wednesday.

The deaths prompted racing regulators in Victoria, home state of the Warrnambool Racing Carnival and one of only two Australian states that permit jumps racing, to suspend the sport immediately.

"A decision on the future of jumps racing will be announced by the end of next week," a statement released by Racing Victoria (RV) Ltd said, adding that races scheduled in a separate town on Sunday would be run as flat (non-jump) races.

RV Chief Executive Rob Hines earlier said the sport was on notice after 12 horses died in Victoria last year.

"We recognise the community issues, and I don't think we would be justified in maintaining the sport at those kind of (fatality) levels," Hines said.

Animal rights groups criticized the deaths and called on government racing officials to ban the sport immediately.

"We're actually very disappointed that (Racing Victoria) did not ban the sport permanently then," said Glenys Oogjes, executive director of Animals Australia.

Since the jumps racing season began on March 31, at least seven horses have died on different venues across Victoria and South Australia, including four horses in as many days last week.

Rising community concern has already put paid to jumps racing in four out of six states in Australia, where thin soil layers on sun-baked tracks prove far more lethal for falling horses than softer tracks abroad.

Animal rights groups say the sport is between 10 and 20 times more dangerous for jockeys and horses than flat-racing, but advocates say the races provide much-needed employment and revenue to often struggling rural communities.

Warrnambool Racing Club chief Andrew Pomeroy said the carnival's future was uncertain in light of the decision. "We're obviously very disappointed. That's probably the best way to put it," he said.


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