Cheltenham Racecourse has been heavily criticised following the death of four horses in the space of three days, with one leading jockey calling for organisers to be “ashamed of themselves”.
On Friday, two horses died in separate incidents, with four-year-old Counter Shy put down after pulling up badly lame in a hurdle race, and nine-year-old Need To Know snapping his near-hind leg after slipping on the landing side of a banked area in a cross-country race.
Saturday’s racing saw five-year-old Glenmona stumble and fall on the back straight of a flat race, which resulted in her death, and on Sunday a fourth horse died when six-year-old London Prize suffered a nasty fall on a downhill hurdle, landing on his head and twisting his neck, that resulted in vets putting the gelding down upon arrival.
The incidents have taken the number of horses killed at Cheltenham this year to 11, which follows the 10 killed in 2016, and jockey Brian Hughes publically criticised the state of the course after riding two horses on Sunday.
Upon returning to the weighing room after riding Cloudy Dream to second place in the Shloer Chase, Hughes said: “The track should be ashamed of themselves, watering so much,” Hughes told ITV Racing. “That's horrendous ground.”
Fellow jockey Stan Sheppard added: “It’s like galloping through PVA glue.”
Champion jockey Richard Johnson said: “The weather we had yesterday was horrendous and it's got very soft. Unfortunately it's got very tacky today.
“It would be lovely to have fresh ground each day but I don't know the layout well enough to know if they can do that. It's always nice to have the freshest ground for graded races, so hopefully they can keep looking at it and improving. But it's not easy after the weather we had.”
Cheltenham’s clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, defended the state of the track and claimed that officials had not watered it for three weeks because it was initially in good condition, before excessive rain changed the condition, and he hit back at Hughes by claiming he should “substantiate his claims before being publicly critical”.
“We watered before the October meeting so it was not good to firm, for very obvious welfare issues,” Claisse said. “On the Friday it was good and the clock backed that up. Once opened up it rode slightly easier the next day. We've not touched it since.
“We had 12mm of rain yesterday on good to soft ground that's turned it soft and heavy.”
Dene Stansall, Animal Aid’s Horse Racing Consultant, said: “After unwatchable scenes of horses falling and breaking down injured, and four young, innocent horses dead at the end of three days’ racing, questions must be answered and people held responsible for this blatant animal abuse. The British Horseracing Authority and Jockey Club Racecourses can no longer excuse the deaths of horses as ‘accidents’ or hide behind weak and pathetic statistics as they usually do. Animal Aid will push to get this course closed down as it is a danger to any horse racing there.”
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