Michael Guerin: Let's honour racing's fallen

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We put up memorials to great horses, so why not for jockeys or drivers who die at work?

Racing can be a dangerous business for both horses and humans. Photo / NZPA
Racing can be a dangerous business for both horses and humans. Photo / NZPA

Nestled among the beautiful gardens of Ellerslie racetrack is a memorial to the champion mare Sunline. It marks where she was buried a couple of years ago and was unveiled in a ceremony that pulled at the heart-strings of anybody who loved the horse.

A couple of kilometres across the Southern Motorway at Alexandra Park there is a similar memorial to the greatest harness horse we have ever produced, Cardigan Bay.

It is always spotless, a lasting reminder to the world's first millionaire racehorse.

Then there is the daddy of all racing memorials, in Timaru where there is a life-sized statue of Phar Lap, who also has a racecourse named after him and a movie honouring his career.

These are all fitting gestures for horses who were more than just cult racing figures, they were national heroes. But they were also, after all, only horses.

And to the best of my knowledge, nowhere in this country do we have memorials to the people who lost their lives helping make horses legends.

Since Ashlee Mundy was sadly taken from the racing family in a race accident last week, there has been an outpouring of sadness from inside the industry and sympathy for those close to her.

Her memory was honoured at tracks around the country as the industry pulled together and television eulogies suggested Ashlee will never be forgotten.

Which for those close to her is true. For the rest of the racing world, never is a long time.

Because nowhere in New Zealand racing is there a place where we honour the horse people who have died living the life they loved.

We have races named after administrators from 50 years ago who did little more than sit in the safety of a committee room, yet we have no memorials to those jockeys, and far less commonly, the harness racing drivers who die in races or trackwork.

That is not good enough.

It does not take a lot of effort, imagination or money to have a lasting reminder to our fallen horse people.

At every track in this country where a jockey loses his or her life there should be a permanent memorial - maybe just a simple, honourable plaque on a grandstand wall - to ensure their loss is never forgotten. It doesn't need to be a centrepiece and certainly wouldn't sit comfortably near the jockeys' room because jockeys don't need daily reminders of the dangers they face.

But an inscription on a wall at Kurow acknowledging that on December 30, 2012 jockey Ashlee Mundy lost her life at work.

Because Mundy and those who have been lost before her deserve the same recognition, and more, than Sunline, Cardigan Bay and Phar Lap.

It may be called horse racing, but the most important competitors in the industry have always been the humans.

- NZ Herald

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