Horse racing is a big part of Australian sporting culture, with huge events such as the Melbourne Cup celebrated as a public holiday across the nation.
Statistics from IBISWorld last year estimated the industry's value at $1.5 billion. Given the vast amounts of money spent within horse racing, it may come as no surprise that withdrawing a thoroughbred at the last minute can be a controversial decision.
Racing NSW regulates the sport in the state, and stipendiary stewards are tasked with a range of officiating duties. This includes administering drug tests, addressing safety concerns and checking the overall health of the horses.
As such, it is the stewards' job to make a decision on whether or not a thoroughbred is fit to race, even if it means withdrawing the horse at the barrier immediately before an event begins.
According to Racing NSW, a steward is given a broad range of powers to do this under the Australian Rules of Racing. The Australian Racing Board created these guidelines as a way to maintain a core set of thoroughbred racing standards across the country. Each state and territory has adopted all or the majority of these rules and varied or supplemented them with local rules of racing.
Why would a steward withdraw a horse?
One of the main responsibilities of stewards is to uphold the integrity of horse racing, which involves ensuring the health and wellbeing of participants. Racing NSW has highlighted a number of occasions where a steward may be inclined to stop a horse from starting an event.
Kicking: Horses often kick each other as they're waiting to be moved into the starting stalls. While these incidents are often not seen by stewards, they can typically hear it occurring or are advised by jockeys of such incidents.
On advice of the on-course veterinarian, stewards then must then decide if the severity of the kick requires the withdrawal of a horse, which means checking for cuts, swelling or bleeding.
Barrier issues: Once in the starting stall, a number of problems could arise that would necessitate the removal of the horse from the race. If a horse strikes its head, rears over backwards or gets its legs caught in the barrier, stewards can order withdrawal (based on the advice of the on-course veterinarian).
Younger horses are more inclined to become frustrated or agitated, although this is not always the case.
Lameness: Stewards are told to inform the starter if they see a horse that could be lame or are advised by jockeys of possible lameness. A veterinarian will then inspect the thoroughbred and ask the jockey whether they are aware if the animal normally has an unusual gait. The vet will then inform the steward of whether or not he believes the horse should be allowed to run, and the stewards will ordinarily act on this advice in withdrawing the horse or allowing it to take its place in the field.