Focus on 10 Festival deaths

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The Independent Online


As the last of the Festival racegoers made their way home yesterday, there was continued concern that so many horses could not. The total of 10 equine fatalities at Cheltenham was unusually high, and when the post- Festival reporting procedures have been completed, the track must decide whether anything could have been done to reduce the toll.

There is a feeling among some racegoers that such fatalities are becoming more common, and changing sensitivities ensure they are certainly becoming less acceptable. Horses die while racing on an almost daily basis, and amid the full-blooded competition of the Festival it is not so much a case of whether as how many. It is possible, however, that gradual changes to the nature of the sport may now be prompting an unfortunate side-effect.

"One factor is the pace the races are run at," Edward Gillespie, the course's managing director, said yesterday. "A lot of the horses are Flat racers who have a lot of speed. Before, jumping horses couldn't go at the speeds they do now, even if they wanted to.

"We will look at the veterinary reports and post-mortems as we always do. Because there have been 10 deaths it sounds like an inquiry, but there is nothing abnormal in it."

Bernard Donegan, a spokesman for the RSPCA, believes that the safety limits at Cheltenham, currently between 24 and 35, should be reviewed. "When you get that many horses bundling up at a hurdle, the poor devils can't see where they are going," he said. "It's a recipe for disaster."

Elsewhere, inquiries continued into the disappointing performance of One Man, who started 11-8 favourite for the Gold Cup but could finish only sixth, 35 lengths behind Imperial Call. The results of a dope test will be received in a few days, but in the meantime One Man appears none the worse for his Cheltenham experience.

"At least we've got a healthy-looking horse," John Hales, his owner, said yesterday. "We just don't know what happened. If he hadn't stayed the trip, you would have expected him to come to the last and flop but he was gone before that. He hit a brick wall and was gone in three strides.

"My daughter knows the horse well and she told me before the race that he was not so lively as he is normally, yet for 85 per cent of the race he went brilliantly. Richard [Dunwoody] was so happy he shouted across to Conor O'Dwyer at the top of the hill, `it's you and me now', but then wallop."

The Gold Cup winner returned to Fergie Sutherland's yard as a spokesman for his owner, Lisselan Farms Ltd, insisted that Imperial Call will remain as Irish as his west Cork surroundings. Many of Ireland's best young horses have been sold to race in Britain in recent years, but no offer, it seems, could tempt him away. "He won't be sold," Mark Coombes said, "he's a Cork horse and that's the way he will stay."

Dunwoody's One Man disappointment was compounded by a fall in the Grand Annual which forced him to miss his final Festival rides and also to sit out yesterday's meeting at Folkestone. He hopes to return today and has provisionally been booked to partner Nazzaro in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter, today's feature race.

Nazzaro is an improving chaser with an obvious chance, but this will be reflected in his price and off a 12lb higher mark than when successful at Fontwell last month, he is worth opposing. Killeshin (4.10) is the alternative. Although his handicap mark is now high enough for him to run in the Grand National itself, it was too low to qualify when the entries were made, and he will have to be satisfied with the Midlands version.