Racing Commentary: Toll rings alarm for all-weather: A spate of deaths after falls among runners on the artificial surfaces has focused concern about jumping safety

IT IS perhaps the most crass adage in racing, the one trotted out after a well-known horse is either injured or killed. 'Typical,' a connection mutters, 'it only happens to the good ones.'

Apart from being palpable rot, this saying carries with it the insinuation that poor horses are somehow more expendable than their faster stablemates.

While Cheltenham promotion swept most other matters to the sidelines this week, four of these so-called 'bad ones' slipped off the map.

While the names of Red Columbia and For Heaven's Sake, who were killed at Southwell on Wednesday, and Lusty Lad and Donosti, who also died on the all-weather, at Lingfield the following day, may not flourish for long in the minds of betting shop habitues, they may become associated with a changing face of the sport. Their deaths have focused a debate that has been bubbling for some time and, this week, several trainers, such as Roger Spicer, Ken Bridgwater and Bill Preece, announced they would never send horses to Southwell again.

The problem which racing's administrators have to address is twofold. Many trainers dislike Southwell's Fibresand surface, which is thought to be 'deader' than when first put down, while others are critics of the hurdles, which, since October 1992, have been mini fences. It is when those two factors interact that the alert starts sounding for racehorses.

'The hurdles are too stiff,' Trevor Wall, who rode For Heaven's Sake on Wednesday, said yesterday. 'One mistake over them and you're on the floor with potentially fatal consequences.

'And nine times out of 10 when you fall on turf, horses slide along the ground and get up and walk away. But there is no forgiveness on the all- weather and it's like having a head-on crash at 30mph.

'When the horse hits the floor, the floor doesn't give so the horse has to. That means a broken bone, back or neck.' Wall, coincidentally, rode his 100th winner on another of this week's victims, Red Columbia, whose 57-race career ended on a cold afternoon in Nottinghamshire. The 13-year-old chestnut had done the rounds and his final trainer was Frank Coton, an 82-year-old permit holder. He won four races and was unusually betrayed by his jumping on his final outing. Two seasons earlier he had completed the Grand National course in the John Hughes Memorial Handicap Chase.

'Red Columbia was a lovely old horse and I hate to think of old favourites like him running round Southwell and ending up dead if they make a mistake. Horses like him may not be the best class, but they're old favourites to a lot of punters,' Wall said.

'All horses fall, even the best jumpers in the world like Desert Orchid fall. They all make mistakes and horses should be able to get away with the odd mistake.'

For Heaven's Sake's was an archetypal example of the worst fall Southwell provides, when a horse runs into the 2ft 6in high solid board at the base of each hurdle and is literally overtaken by its backside. The nine-year-old died instantly of a broken neck after a grotesque back somersault.

Bill Preece, the gelding's trainer, like others in his trade, would like to see a return to the original all-weather hurdles, even though they drew criticism themselves at the time. The image remains of frontrunners kicking the gossamer obstacles out of the ground and others dodging through the gaps. 'Everyone said the old hurdles were Mickey Mouse, but at least they had some give,' said Preece, who also lost Ternimus at Southwell just over a year ago. 'And they also gave horses a chance.'

The Jockey Club response to this week's fatalities will come only after assessment of the broader scale of statistics for the whole of last season.

However, what is already known is that there are fewer fallers on the all-weather than on turf, though figures on the deaths that occur from these errors are not yet available.

Neither will Portman Square be setting up a special operations room in the light of this week's deaths. 'The all- weather has been in use now since 1989 and it was exhaustively tested and approved at the outset by the trainers,' David Pipe, the Jockey Club's spokesman, said yesterday. 'The hurdle we've got at the moment was also trialled extensively by trainers and jockeys, all of whom, without exception, gave it the thumbs up.

'We will be looking at the overall figures to see if there are any lessons to be drawn, but on this specific case we've had no representation at all suggesting that there is anything wrong with either the surface or the hurdle from either the National Trainers' Federation (NTF) or the Jockeys' Association.'

That may not be the case after the NTF holds its annual general meeting tomorrow, though the Jockey Club's attention will mainly be held by this week's all-weather jumps meetings at Southwell on Wednesday and Lingfield the following day. Only then will a clean bill of health substantiate the belief that last week was nothing more than a blip in the racing season.

(Photograph omitted)

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service