BHA seeks to dampen deaths talk


As the Cheltenham Festival's third day passed yesterday without an equine fatality, the British Horseracing Authority said that the state of the ground was not responsible for the five deaths that occurred on the first two days of the meeting.

After two high-profile chasers, Garde Champetre and Scotsirish, broke legs on the flat in Tuesday's Cross-country Chase (and Educated Evans also fell fatally, in a novice chase), the issue of safety was raised. Such questions were asked again when Featherbed Lane was pulled up on the flat with a serious leg injury on Wednesday and was put down along with Abergavenny, who fell while jumping a hurdle.

The Cheltenham executive took the decision to water extensively straight after racing on the second day and did so until the early hours of the morning. But the clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, said this had been the plan since the end of last week and was not a reaction to the deaths.

Tim Morris, the BHA's director of equine science and welfare, said on Tuesday that there was "no reason to think that there are any undue risks in these races. We must not read too much into what at present is an isolated incident."

Wednesday's incidents, along with what were perceived to be misleading reports in certain sections of the press, prompted the BHA to issue a statement yesterday in which it underlined its commitment to equine safety while recognising the sport's inherent risks.

The BHA's communications manager, Robin Mounsey, said: "There is a threshold of fatalities over the year at Cheltenham that would trigger further careful analysis, but we are nowhere near that yet."