Four perish on racing's Everest

See More Business won his own little contest in the Martell Cup here yesterday to prove he is still a championship contender, but it was an afternoon when racing itself suffered damage in another battle.

See More Business won his own little contest in the Martell Cup here yesterday to prove he is still a championship contender, but it was an afternoon when racing itself suffered damage in another battle.

The Grand National meeting is routinely targeted by those against the very sport of National Hunt racing and yesterday there came ammunition by the boxload. Two of See More Business's opponents, Strong Promise and Lake Kariba, perished, and two more, Rossell Island and Architect, died later on the card to leave a grim total of fatalities.

Just one of those was a victim of the huge Grand National fences and officials pointed out that they were all individual accidents that could have happened at any other course, in the country. That, for some, though, will not be enough. The death of the glorious One Man here two years ago is still fresh in the memory.

"It is very sad, but we have to accept that accidents do happen," Charles Barnett, the Aintree managing director, said. "They do not often happen in clusters like this. More often they are just random accidents and today we have had three random accidents.

"They have happened on three different courses, the Mildmay course, the Grand National course and the hurdles course, and there is no interlinking factor between the three of them. These are just very sad accidents about which we are all very sorry."

There have been amendments to Aintree in recent years, including the filling in of the ditch on the landing side of Becher's Brook, and officials now believe the course is as fair a test of the racehorse as it can be. Jumps racing, they point out, is a hazardous business in which there will always be the occasional fatality.

"The overall figures say that 70,000 horses start in a race per year and the number that are hurt is very small," Peter Webbon, the Jockey Club's chief veterinary officer, said yesterday. "If half a ton of horse hits the ground at 30mph then sometimes the horse will be hurt. Occasionally the combination of weight and speed results in injury. If people recognise a pattern [here] then they should tell us, because that holds a clue to what we should do about it.

"One in six people who climb Everest are killed doing so and this is the Everest of horseracing. In that last race the riderless horse jumped the last fence for fun, so I don't necessarily subscribe to the view that they don't have a choice.

"Of course, all racing is risky, and, if you put fences in the way, the risk is undoubtedly increased. But I don't think there is anything wrong with risk itself in terms of looking after the horses. Our veterinary responsibility is to minimise that risk as far as we can and to deal as efficiently and professionally as possible with any accidents that do happen.

"We must get away from the idea that risk in itself is a bad thing. There will always be some risk and injuries, as there are in any other sport or occupation. Every time I watch a rugby match on television I see people being put at risk.

"All of us have within us a little part which actually admires people with the guts to take risks. The reason we have evolved into the people we are, the reason we put a man on the moon and wrote wonderful music, is that people were prepared to take risks. If we didn't we'd get nowhere and we'd all still be living in caves. Somebody, somewhere had to climb the next hill and see what was on the other side. Within sport you face risks."

See More Business, a failure as favourite in the Gold Cup last month, completed his rehabilitation with what otherwise could have been called a bloodless victory in the Martell Cup. He surged to the front from the outset in an effort to run the sting out of Strong Promise. It became virtually a match as Lake Kariba and Mulligan were left behind and then, six out, it became virtually a walkover as Strong Promise made the last mistake of his life.

"See More Business wasn't always fluent this afternoon and made two bad mistakes at the same fence down the far side," Mick Fitzgerald, his jockey, reported. "I squeezed him going into the fence but he didn't really respond. But I have little doubt that he has another Gold Cup in him."

Fitzgerald later missed the winning ride on Ross Moff (Paul Carberry deputised) following the fall on Architect which left him with pulled ligaments in his left ankle. He will see the racecourse doctor this morning to determine whether he can participate.

It was a good opening day at least for Philip Hobbs. The Somerset trainer saddled a treble through Phardante Flyer, Bells Life and Lord Brex, who won so easily that he may turn out again in today's opener. Even Hobbs, however, would not have been celebrating at full throttle last night.

"It is always devastating when anything like this happens," Hobbs said. "It is terrible for the owners, the trainer and even worse for the person looking after the horse. But, at the end of the day, we have all got to go on."

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