Dr's death calls racing's ethics into question

There was real tragedy in Cheltenham over the weekend, in the offices of the town's Liberal Democrat MP, but racing did not get off lightly either.

There was real tragedy in Cheltenham over the weekend, in the offices of the town's Liberal Democrat MP, but racing did not get off lightly either.

Dr Leunt ran his 36th and last jumps race at Prestbury Park on Saturday. As his connections waited in the winners' enclosure he died out there in the wind after the Pillar Property Chase. He had run his heart out.

Dr Leunt will now become another statistic of jumps racing, an expired chestnut gelding, but to his owners, of course, he will always be more than that. "He was a friend and part of the family and was the most marvellous racehorse anyone could have owned," Peter Emery said yesterday. "There is a great sense of loss and it will take some getting over.

"We have had the most fantastic season with eight winners but now the book is well and truly balanced. You could have given us all the winners in the world and we wouldn't have swapped them for Dr Leunt. There will only ever be one Dr Leunt.

"But we're racing people and we understand that things like this happen. They pay a price, in a sense, for us. Some of these horses die for us."

On television, a sonorous Derek Thompson told Channel 4 viewers that Dr Leunt had passed away (when you call yourself Tommo you shouldn't really attempt gravitas). Anyway, Dr Leunt did not pass away. That is what happens to old people under tartan blankets in retirement homes. Dr Leunt died taking part in an extremely hazardous sport.

Much of the attraction and drama of National Hunt racing is in its inherent danger. The cowardly and the timid have no chance whatsoever. It feeds a very basic instinct for those who participate and for those who watch. That is why the public prefer and identify more greatly with the winner of the Grand National than the Derby. One of them proves he is sleek and classy and an athlete, the other comes back from the trenches with snow on his boots.

Jumps racing is not designed specifically to kill its participants, but that is what necessarily happens now and again. In this, the sport is no different from boxing. Those against winter racing altogether swiftly point out that while jockeys and pugilists understand the jeopardy they are putting themselves in (and derive a great kick from it) the horses do not.

These abolitionists were given an unlikely figurehead last week when David Elsworth announced he would no longer train jumpers, largely because he was no longer able to justify to himself sending out horses to a perilous uncertainty. It was unfortunate that Philip Hobbs, Dr Leunt's trainer, used one of racing's crassest phrases on Saturday when he said "it only happens to the good ones". That does not bear comment. Indeed, it is a very moderate one that has always stuck in Elsworth's mind.

I am not the only person to have been driven up to the Whitsbury gallops and told the story of Fionans Flutter, an ordinary horse who perished in an ordinary race at Lingfield one anonymous January day in 1997. Elsworth saw Fionans Flutter struggling to keep up that day and then he saw him fall at the fourth fence. Most of all though, he still sees the look in the horse's eye when he got there, a look of pain and a look of fear. He chokes at the memory.

And when David Elsworth starts saying the casualties are not worth the glory then it is time to start listening, as he has had just about as much glory as anyone around.

The Jockey Club's response last week was that there was no evidence of an increase in fatality or injury to horses. They seemed happy to accept the status quo, to accept that a certain number of horses die each year. The reaction is a little more enlightened when death comes to boxing or motor racing. Things get done.

Peter Webbon, the Club's chief veterinary officer, said: "We are always examining ways of improving the ground and the obstacles and lessen the risks." But then he had already told us that these improvements had either not been implemented or were not working.

Proof that racing truly cared about its horses would come in a decrease in these figures. They can moan about bleeding hearts, they can moan about do-gooders, but now they have also to moan about David Elsworth. He had a protracted wrestle with his conscience and, in the end, conscience had its hand raised. It is a bout that most others care not to enter for fear of its consequences.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little