Britain’s Jockey Club said this week the welfare of horses at Cheltenham, the country’s biggest horse racing festival, was of paramount importance. It claimed the organization did evrything possible to ensure the animals’ safety.
The Jockey Club, which runs Cheltenham, was responding to criticism over the deaths last week of four horses at the four-day festival. The deaths prompted animal welfare group the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) to claim the animals were being “sacrificed for entertainment.”
The first fatality came in the very first race of the event on Tuesday, when Shallwehaveonemore had to be euthanized after falling in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
On Thursday, two more horses, Mindsmadeup and Born Patriot, met the same fate following falls. And on Friday another, Ginto, had to be put down after suffering an injury in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle.
Since 2000, 73 horses have died at Cheltenham, according to LACS, 16 in the past five years. In 2006, 11 died in a single week.
“For any horse to lose its life in the pursuit of a ‘sport’ is an unnecessary tragedy. But this sickening death toll points to the need for new and much tighter safety measures to be implemented – we are calling for an independent regulatory body to be created, with horse welfare as its only concern,” Chris Luffingham, director of external affairs at LACS, told Gloucestershire Live.
“We will also be calling for the ban on the whip, which forces horses to go beyond what they are comfortably able to do, resulting in deaths, injuries, and stress,” he added.
In the US, 144 deaths at California’s Santa Anita Racetrack in the 2018-19 racing season caused widespread outrage that led to reforms. These included restrictions on the use of whips by jockeys, a ban on most medications before races, and the introduction of new imaging technologies to catch injuries sooner. The measures helped bring about a 50 percent reduction in deaths.
But Ian Renton, regional director for the Jockey Club, told BBC Radio Gloucestershire his team could not be doing more to promote safety.
All our team here work absolutely tirelessly to do everything we can for horses and human welfare and that is absolutely paramount in everything we think,” Renton said.
“We got criticized for watering [the track] on Tuesday night, the reason for that is to try to ensure we produce absolutely the safest ground, and we will continue to do that,” he added. “We will continue to take criticism for things like that because the welfare of horses is what we put at the top of our list.”
Despite controversies, the 162-year-old Cheltenham Festival is more popular than ever, with record crowds recorded this year. Some 280,627 racegoers attended the event across the four days. Meanwhile, on-course bookies reported that business was brisk.
“I’ve never seen so many large-stake bets in the silver ring than I did on Thursday, and there definitely seems to be a lot more money about,” bookmaker Martin Davies told The Racing Post.
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