Warning: Graphic content
Thousands of healthy thoroughbred racehorses are being shipped to their brutal deaths at abattoirs where many are mistreated before being inhumanely killed for meat for human consumption.
An explosive report on ABC program 7.30 last night blew the lid on the "industrial scale" destruction of an enormous number of animals from Australia's $1 billion horse racing industry.
It's a practice that regulation should prevent, and which NSW Racing insists doesn't occur, but secretly captured vision tells a very different and horrific story.
And the report has had an immediate impact.
One of the biggest names in racing, Hall of Fame trainer Lee Freedman, tweeted his disgust at what he saw on the show last night.
At one abattoir in southeast Queensland over a 22-day period, more than 300 race horses representing $5 million in prize money won were killed, news.com.au reported.
At that rate, it would equate to around 4000 thoroughbreds destroyed at one facility alone.
In graphic and hard-to-watch vision, many of the horses were shown being abused by abattoir workers — whipped, kicked and punched, and electric prods used on their genitalia and anuses.
"Come on you dumb f***ing horse!" a worker is heard screaming at one animal. "F***! You're dead! You are dead!"
One of the thoroughbreds captured on video at the abattoir is War Ends — a horse well-known in racing circles, having won more than $400,000.
War Ends is shown being repeatedly abused by an abbatoir worker, who calls the animal a "f***ing stupid c***" before he bolts it and then kicks it in the head while it lays dead on the slaughterhouse floor.
Jockey Laura Cheshire wrote that she had "failed" War Ends after watching her passed "on and on and on".
Paul McGreevey, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare Science at the University of Sydney, watched the harrowing footage with 7.30 reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna.
"Obviously that horse took a while to die. It would have suffered," Professor McGreevey said of one death.
Of another, Prof McGreevey observed: "Well, the horse appeared to blink, which is a suggestion that, a strong suggestion that it is conscious. And that's, that's very troubling. That shouldn't be permitted at all."
Dozens of horses were shown being killed back-to-back in vision from covertly installed cameras. Their distinct branding links them back to major studs.
One horse had to be bolted in its head five times before it eventually died.
"We're talking about destroying horses on an industrial scale. We're seeing animals suffering," Prof McGreevey said.
"Clearly there's no excuse for that sort of treatment. That's not acceptable, of course it isn't and it's disgusting."
Just weeks out from the Melbourne Cup, the disturbing revelations are set to rock the industry to its core. The investigation is two years in the making.
In the wake of the NSW Government's short-lived ban on greyhound racing, the horse racing industry in the state vowed to take a proactive stance on welfare.
NSW Racing chief executive officer Peter V'landys announced at the time that every single racehorse domiciled in the state would be rehomed at retirement.
"We're not going to stop once the horse has been given to somebody else," Mr V'landys told reporters then about the sector's bold plan.
"We're going to expand it to the next level, where we want to know if the horse is having a good retirement."
But as the 7.30 report revealed, that's not happening.
Many of the horses from NSW sent interstate for slaughter — a clear breach of regulations — were still officially listed as being active in racing, the investigation found.
Others were listed in the official database as having been retired or rehomed, but instead wound up being slaughtered.
At the southeast Queensland abattoir, the resulting horse meat is exported to lucrative markets in Europe, Russia and Japan.
In an interview with Meldrum-Hanna, Mr V'landys insisted that "zero" horses from NSW were ending up at abattoirs or knackeries — facilities that turn animals into pet meat.
"Because it is against the rules of racing," he said.
When asked if he was sure the figure was zero, Mr V'landys responded: "Yes, absolutely."
The investigation also found that a number of racehorses are being sold at auctions and sent to knackeries.
Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses campaigner Elio Celotto described the scenes in the vision from the abattoir in question as barbaric.
He said if people knew what was going on.
"I don't think we'd be getting 100,000 people going to the Melbourne Cup," he said.
In its annual reporting, Racing Australia insists less than one per cent of racehorses retired from the industry are sent to abattoirs each year, and only in circumstances that are unavoidable.
On that figure, the number of horses slaughtered each year should be just 34.
"That's what the industry is assuring us of," Prof McGreevey said. "More than that is killed in one week at this one abattoir alone.
"The figures don't add up. If my concerns are substantiated, then we're talking about a large number of horses that are meeting a very grisly end."
The "black hole" of missing horses is at least 4000, he believes.
The investigation raises serious concerns about the practices in place and the lack of oversight when it comes to animal welfare.
Prof McGreevey said the reality is that far too many horses are being bred, out of the desire of hopeful owners and trainers to produce the next big Melbourne Cup winner.
In the last financial year, 14,000 foals were produced in Australia.
"It's not sustainable at the moment," he said.
Mr V'landys said that if people have broken the rules, NSW Racing will deal with them "pretty swiftly".
"We'll put the full force of the rules of racing against anyone who does that because it's a severe breach of our rules and our terms and conditions of being in the thoroughbred racing industry."
But Prof McGreevey said the industry has let down "a lot of people — and a lot of horses".
"When we bet on horses, we are interacting with this industry, and we deserve better, the horses deserve better, and people who love the industry deserve better.
"There is a massive question mark over the regulator, and the problem of self-regulation comes into play yet again. This is the sort of material that will shake the industry to the core."