31 Jul 2019

How a dead and buried New Zealand racehorse became a political football in Tasmania

7:02 pm on 31 July 2019

New Zealand-born harness-racing horse A Loan Again never set the world on fire, with just 12 wins from 166 starts.

Stock photo

Harness-racing horses in competition. (File photo) Photo: 123rf

The gelding, foaled in 2007, won a total of just under $140,000 from its career in New Zealand and Australia.

On 19 May this year A Loan Again ran its final race.

Following the poor showing at Elwick Racecourse, north of Hobart, the horse died.

What happened after that has become the subject of political speculation.

The saga first came to the attention of Tasmania's Parliament on 6 June, when it was raised in budget estimates by Greens leader Cassy O'Connor, who alleged the horse's carcass had been fed to lions at the Zoodoo wildlife park.

It came up in Parliament again the following week, and while Racing Minister Elise Archer confirmed the Office of Racing Integrity had determined the carcass had been buried, she did not tell Parliament where it was.

Yesterday, Ms O'Connor tabled a letter from 30 July in which Ms Archer confirmed the horse "was exhumed from the Zoodoo property" on 9 June for identification - the carcass was confirmed to be that of the hapless 11-year-old.

Zoodoo denied this, and its operators maintain that the body was not discovered on the park's premises and they were unaware of the death or disposal of the horse until being contacted by media in June.

Office of Racing Integrity general manager John King told the original parliamentary budget estimates hearing in June that an investigation was underway because A Loan Again's death had gone unreported, despite a requirement it be reported within 24 hours.

The probe found A Loan Again had died of natural causes and its trainer had acted appropriately in relation to caring for the animal.

Zoodoo's general manager Donna Cuttriss-Smith issued a new statement on Tuesday reiterating: "I can confirm, once again, that this racehorse was not buried or dug up on Zoodoo property."

"Zoodoo does not accept deceased animals from members of the public … Zoodoo did not accept this animal in any form," Ms Cuttriss-Smith said in the statement, adding "the horse has been confirmed as being buried on a private property in the area, not Zoodoo," and "in no way related to Zoodoo's operations".

On Tuesday in Parliament, Ms O'Connor accused Ms Archer of "deceit by omission" by withholding the fact the carcass had been exhumed at Zoodoo when responding to earlier questioning.

"The question is, how often does this happen? Is it common knowledge in the horse racing industry, the pacing industry, the greyhound racing industry that if you've got a dead animal on your hands you can take it to Zoodoo?" Ms O'Connor said.

"There is no transparency about this, and it is very possible that what we are dealing with here is the tip of the iceberg."

But Ms Archer fired back that Ms O'Connor should apologise to Zoodoo and Mr King after the allegations of the horse being fed to lions were proved false.

"Rather than try to deflect from the fact her information was wrong, she should apologise to both Zoodoo and to [Office of Racing Integrity general manager] John King for trying to drag their name through the mud purely for political reasons," Ms Archer said in a statement.

Following the Office of Racing Integrity investigation, the trainer of A Loan Again was reprimanded and fined $200 under Australian Harness Racing Rules for failing to report the death to stewards within 24 hours, disposing of the carcass without permission and failing to maintain an appropriate treatment book.


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