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.

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine