While Australian society no longer tolerates the brutal treatment of animals simply for our entertainment in circuses, horse racing remains immune.
This lack of sanction is strange, as racing also represents an important element of our national gambling problem.
The exclusion of horse racing from Australia's ethical dialogue is a blind spot that needs to be considered, particularly in light of the recent near hysteria about the slaughter practices of "our" cattle overseas.
The track is big business in Australia. Last year, we hosted nearly 19,000 professional races, 11 per cent of the global total. Gambling and thoroughbred racing are inseparable in Australia. During the last decade, racing's gambling turnover has gone from $12 to $20 billion.
Expenditure on gambling as a proportion of household discretionary spending has almost doubled since the 1980s, driven by deregulation and new ubiquitous ways to bet. Online gambling tears down all sorts of spatial barriers: you don't need to reach the nearest TAB to bet.
Like with pokies, racing perpetuates the hold of the gambling industry over leisure markets in Australia. As demonstrated in numerous studies, this unproductive expenditure leads to the disruption of family and community life.
Racing is also inherently wasteful of life. Almost half of foals produced in Australia are not live births, and competition for a smaller number of more lucrative prizes means that most horses never make the cut to be a champion.
Over 10,000 will be sent to the slaughterhouse this year alone. If you've ever wanted to own a share in a racehorse, look at that can of dog food sitting on your shelf. You're already part of the industry.
At its heart, racing is a cruel sport that uses animals for our pleasure. Horses are bred, trained and forced to perform an unnatural spectacle. Races reaffirm the domination of humans over animals.
Through these rituals we proclaim Nature is there to be tamed and exploited. It is strange that it is the shady presence of gambling that makes this apparently okay.
When no wagers are at stake, Australians have tended to be more progressive in our treatment of animals in entertainment. Zoos have been remodelled to increase their specimens' quality of life and direct resources towards the conservation of endangered species. The use of exotic animals in circuses has been banned by many local governments in Australia.
Only in racing do we still let humans whip animals. Regulations that establish how much a racehorse can be whipped are just a way to appease the debate, but fail to address the underlying fact that whipping of any kind is unethical.
Some of us take solace in the argument that race horses have been bred over generations to "need" the racing life, just as sheep now must be shorn because selective breeding has led to excessive wool growth. While today's descendants of the Arabian horse are long of leg and swift, it's a mistake to see the way the racing industry manage their stock as anywhere near natural.
The industrial needs of the commercial racing industry take precedence across the whole lifecycle. Horses are artificially bred out of their natural mating season to maximise their time for race training and to lengthen the productive period of the horse's life.
Training bears no relationship to the health needs of the animal, as much as to optimise their economic potential within the industry's very small window of opportunity.
Those who defend racing argue that the animals actually enjoy the sport. "The horses are happy and like to run," they claim. However, horses exhibit a range of health effects that show that their management is purely in the interest of productivity.
This includes the health impacts of excessive training at a young age. Immature skeletons are subject to considerable stress, leading to early injury and death. Two-year-olds often exhibit stomach ulcers because the training regime denies them the opportunity to engage in natural grazing.
True, the most profitable horses become "celebrities", but that does not mean that they enjoy their 15 minutes of fame. Black Caviar is whipped as brutally as any other horse.
Others allude to tradition, painting critics of the industry as "un-Australian". But cultures change and traditions evolve through moral and ethical questioning.
There is an increasing number of voices against bullfights in Spain and Mexico, two countries where this spectacular bloodshed is also seen as "traditional". Public opinion against fights in Spain has doubled in the past 15 years, and now stands at 70 per cent. This has led to bullfighting being banned in the Spanish region of Catalonia, even if it produced millions of euros in taxes and revenue.
Others argue that unless racing's critics don't use animal products of any kind (for food, clothing, medicine, or even as pets), their position is hypocritical. We need to exercise a high level of scepticism when such a ruthlessly pragmatic industry resorts to arguments based on ethical purism.
Animals have been exploited as cattle for millennia; however, drawing a moral equivalency between racing and other forms of animal agriculture is unsound. There is a key difference between their treatment as food and in an unnecessary entertainment activity.
In our immensely unequal world, many societies still need meat for nutritional reasons, but all societies can live without the exploitation of animals for leisure.
We need to reflect carefully in Australia about how easily we are alarmed by how other countries, most of which are perceived as "underdeveloped", treat animals. The recent outcry over the cruel practices in Indonesian abattoirs is a good example.
Some of the same people that were horrified by images of how Australian cattle is slaughtered overseas cheer at the races while an animal with pieces of metal nailed to its hoofs, with chemicals running through its bloodstream, and a jockey brutalising it with a whip makes millions of dollars for those who exploit it.
We need to exercise the same moral standards to our own behaviour that we project to our regional neighbours. The tolerance of recreational animal cruelty in Australia weakens our ability to talk with authority about the food production practices of those in developing nations.
In a more honest ethical debate, gambling and the fair treatment of animals should be at the forefront of this discussion.
César Albarrán Torres is a Teaching Fellow in the Digital Cultures Program at the University of Sydney. View his full profile here. Peter John Chen is a politics lecturer at the University of Sydney's Department of Government. View his full profile here.