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Melbourne Cup tickets to help fund retired horse welfare

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Sydney (AFP)

Australia's racing industry on Monday pledged millions of dollars for the care of retired racehorses, as it scrambles to address the fallout from animal cruelty allegations that sparked a major outcry.

National broadcaster ABC revealed this month that thousands of retired animals were being sent to abattoirs in secret, where many were allegedly beaten and abused before being killed.

Racing Victoria said it would spend at least Aus$25 million (US$17 million) over the next three years to expand an existing program of rehoming retired horses and to create a new welfare taskforce designed to prevent cruelty to racing animals.

The organisation's chairman, Brian Kruger, said it was clear the industry needed to "step up and do more".

"It's incumbent on us to ensure our horses have opportunities for a rewarding life after racing," he told reporters in Melbourne.

Separately, the Victorian Racing Club said 10 percent of ticket sales from the Melbourne Cup Carnival and five percent of annual membership fees would go toward a new equine welfare fund, which it is seeding with an initial Aus$1.5 million.

About 300,000 people attend the four-day Carnival each year, with tickets to next week's prestigious Cup race costing $90 for a general admission pass and up to hundreds of dollars for exclusive packages.

Liz Walker, the CEO of animal welfare charity RSCPA in Victoria, said the measures were a "good start" but did not go far enough.

"It tends to be focused towards the end-of-life of racehorses and we would say they really have to go right back to the beginning, and we really do need to have that birth-to-death reporting and recording as well as injury statistics," she told the ABC.

While the slaughter of racehorses is not illegal in Australia, the ABC investigation found the practice was far more widespread than acknowledged.

The racing industry insists that less than one percent of retired thoroughbreds end up in an abattoir or knackery, but the ABC claimed about 4,000 horses "disappeared" each year, with meat from slaughtered animals being shipped abroad for human consumption and pet food.

The Queensland government last week announced an inquiry into the treatment of horses at abattoirs in response to the revelations.

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