Newbury was appalling but the sport has no case to answer
It is the coldest comfort imaginable, but the community shaken by the macabre events at Newbury on Saturday could not be better equipped to place them in due perspective. The week had begun, after all, with the harrowing news that Jack Tyner, a promising young jockey, had died as a result of head injuries sustained in a point-to-point fall in Co Waterford. Once Newbury had abandoned the rest of its card, moreover, Leopardstown and Warwick could only fill the void with a merciless new challenge, in the deaths of three talented steeplechasers.
In the circumstances, the repellent scenes in the parade ring at Newbury – where two horses dropped dead before the first race, apparently convulsed by electricity – should leave a scar only on the sport's memory, and not on its conscience. It may or may not prove that someone, at some point, made a misjudgement that could even warrant the attention of negligence lawyers. Yesterday a section of power cable was dug up from beneath the paddock and taken away for examination. There are suggestions that it had been plugged during construction of a new stand, some 20 years ago. Whether or not anybody is ultimately held to account, however, the loss of Fenix Two and Marching Song can hardly be shoehorned into the sort of moral dilemma presented by the daily hazards of their calling. To those who cared for them, and cherished them, the investigators might some day be able to explain what happened – but that does not mean that it will ever make any kind of sense.
Nor, equally, is there any accounting for the better fortune of those who so narrowly avoided their misery. Some horses had been shod with plastic plates; others, with aluminium. No trainer, no farrier, could ever have entertained the possibility that his choice might prove a fatal one.
It was with due bewilderment that Nicky Henderson yesterday reflected on the reprieve of Kid Cassidy, who had briefly collapsed on his hind-legs but managed to get off the grass. "I think our horse was extremely lucky," the Seven Barrows trainer said. "He was lucky enough to get back on the rubber walkway, and actually had a different type of shoe on to the other horses. It was horrific – something none of us had ever seen before, and we hope never to see again, the most traumatic five minutes I think one can ever go through. This game we're in is all about horses, and everybody loves horses. I think they suffered little. There was a brief moment when they staggered around, and then they were on the ground."
Henderson withdrew Kid Cassidy, but The Merry Giant was allowed to take his chance after a similar wobble and was said to be "badly traumatised" afterwards. Happily his trainer, Rebecca Curtis, had better news yesterday. "He only went down on his back legs and obviously, at the time, we didn't really know what was going on," she said. "The vet checked him down at the start and said he was fine to race. But obviously if we'd known about the electricity problem, we wouldn't have run. He seems fine this morning, and that's the main thing. The concern would be when he goes back to the races and into the parade ring, he might remember what happened."
Hindsight makes it easy to wonder why even that one race was allowed to take place, but at the time officials were dealing with a scenario too surreal for any protocol. Assuming that Newbury and the regulators are together satisfied that the problem has been both identified and remedied, they are expected to reschedule the meeting today – most probably for Wednesday or Sunday. Both in terms of timing and entries, it had promised a key role in the build-up to the Cheltenham Festival.
There will be no second chance, however, for Kilmurry, who was challenging Finian's Rainbow when breaking down at Warwick; or two old favourites in Glencove Marina and Money Trix, who respectively collapsed and had to put down after the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown. For their connections, the heartache is indistinguishable from that of Andy Turnell and Jonjo O'Neill, who went home to empty stalls where Marching Song and Fenix Two had been stabled that morning. But so, too, is their essential freedom from blame.
For no outsider could ever presume to explain the proper ratio of risk and reward and responsibility to those horsemen mourning the teenager taken from their midst. Tyner had been born to the way of life that killed him, and sensed a privileged fulfillment in its tragic pursuit. And a similar belief, on behalf of the stricken animals they had tearfully cradled that afternoon, must sustain those who drove home horseboxes on Saturday with nothing but a bridle to hang inside.
Descaro (3.50 Catterick)
Improved for his new trainer on the Flat last season, raised in trip to disclose an unsuspected turn of foot. Perhaps needed a break when returned to timber in November, but can confirm himself well treated now that he has had one.
Fujin Dancer (2.50 Catterick)
Had a fine campaign on the Flat and looks handicapped to keep up the good work over hurdles, looking unlucky when a close third at Market Rasen last month, badly hampered before finishing fast.
One to watch
Qalinas (David Pipe) is a French import being given the chance to find his feet here, two-thirds of the way to a modest rating after again being set plenty to do before keeping on for fourth at Taunton last week.
Where the money's going
Quito De La Roque is 14-1 from 20-1 with Ladbrokes for the RSA Chase after scoring at Navan yesterday. Spirit Son, impressive at Exeter, is 8s from 12s with Paddy Power for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
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