Racehorses face butcher's axe as recession forces courses to close

Owners find it cheaper to sell their thoroughbreds as racegoers abandon the sport in their droves

It is not a good time to be a racehorse in Italy. Many Italians already had a taste for cavallo, but with the economy dipping and people staying away from the races, horse steaks, stews and cutlets are a set feature on many more menus.

As the bets dry up, and with many of the traditional New Year's Day meetings cancelled for only the third time since the Second World War, the Italian press has been full of reports suggesting that many of Italy's 15,000 racehorses could face a one-way trot to the butcher's shop. Last weekend, 200 officials and horse owners from the Agnano hippodrome carted their animals around the streets of Naples in protest at the crisis affecting their industry. In the north of Italy, the racecourses in Bologna and Cesena closed at the end of the year without knowing when, or if, they will reopen.

Tomaso Grassi, boss of Hippogroup, which runs both courses, said the 480 horses and the people who looked after them faced an uncertain future. "There's going to be some major downsizing in horse-racing," he added, "and it will be hard to find a home for all the animals."

The situation is so bad that a leading animal rights group is calling on the government to step in to prevent thousands of racehorses from being butchered illegally. In Italy, animals used for racing cannot be eaten and Mr Grassi is adamant that the horses at his course would not suffer this fate. "But we fear many Italian racehorses will end up at illegal butchers, because there are so few controls on these places," Ilaria Ferri, the scientific director of the national animal protection agency, told The Independent. "We also fear many of the animals may suffer more cruelty. The Government must act by making it illegal to kill horses in the same way it's illegal to kill cats, dog and other pets."

For those who feel squeamish at the thought of eating horse meat, some areas of Italy, particularly in the south, are probably best avoided. If you walk in certain parts of Catania, it is hard to avoid the smell of frying horse steaks – many Italians simply regard horses in the same way as cattle or sheep. Ms Ferri said, however, that the repercussions could be serious for the people who ate illegally butchered racehorses, because racing animals were often, "administered drugs and substances are extremely harmful for humans".

Fans of racing and those who work in the industry say ministers should step in and offer to support the jobs of the 50,000 people, and 15,000 horses, involved in the sport. Last month, newspapers said Italian racing's governing body, would cut its grant to racecourses by 40 per cent this year to €61m.

A meeting between racing industry figures and the government to find a way out of the crisis was scheduled for last week, but most pundits expect the pleas for financial help to fall on deaf ears; Prime Minister Mario Monti's administration is currently trying to cut public spending, not increase it.

Most animal right activists agree that in terms of animal cruelty, the numerous illegal palio-type races are a more pressing problem. In some parts of Italy, particularly Sicily, gambling on street races is big business. Police often swoop on events in Palermo and Catania in an attempt to bust a racket thought to earn the Mafia hundreds of millions of euros.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas