Advocacy group Animal Aid staged a protest at Wetherby racecourse last Thursday, following the deaths of three Irish-bred hurdlers at a race meeting on May 23.
Milano Supreme fell at the sixth obstacle in the 2.40 Selling Hurdle. In the 3.55, Distant Memories fell in front of the stands but was hidden behind screens before being destroyed. He was ridden by jockey Richard Johnson and trained by Tim Vaughan, as was the third horse of the day to be fatally injured, David’s Folly. The lower bones of the four-year-old mare’s right hind leg shattered in the accident.
In a statement Animal Aid said it was not the first time that multiple deaths had occurred during a single day’s racing at the West Yorkshire track. “On 26 April 2009, three horses lost their lives, and four were killed on 14 October that same year. Alarmingly, seven horses have died as a result of falls at the course since Christmas alone, and a total of 30 horses within the last six years.”
Animal Aid’s Horseracing Consultant, Dene Stansall, attended the course’s Yorkshire Post Ladies’ Evening event on Thursday, accompanied by a supporter dressed as the ‘spectre of death’ – a Victorian lady, garbed in dark, gothic robes, wearing a hat that features a model race horse tumbling over a hurdle.
The national campaign group has written to the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to ask for a prompt and thorough inquiry into the fatalities.
However, a BHA spokesperson said that Wetherby had “an excellent overall record” in terms of equine welfare. “Over the last few years the average fatality rate at Wetherby has been around 00.36% of all runners, making it well below the national average.”
Wetherby racecourse Chief Executive Jonjo Sanderson, said the three deaths were “unfortunate”.
“Nobody wants this to happen.One of the recent deaths was likely down to a horse suffering a heart attack on the approach to a jump and one of the others was a fallen horse being trampled by another horse. Looking at the previous five years though, the number of fatalities at Wetherby is below the national average.”
A spokesperson for the RSPCA said the organisation was “deeply saddened by the deaths of any racehorses including the three tragic fatalities at Wetherby”.
“We have always had concerns about the inconsistent behaviour of horse racing hurdles and we are presently working with the racing industry in an attempt to improve the safety of the obstacles.
“The deaths on this occasion, however, appear to have been caused by jumping errors rather than the course itself.”
The BHA spokesperson said details of the incidents would be collated, and if there was evidence of a trend which linked the deaths then this would be examined.
“At this stage there is no evidence of any link between the incidents in question.
“There are 14,000 horses in training at any one time in British Racing. These horses are provided with levels of care which elevate them above most other domestic or domesticated animals in the world. In exchange for this level of care we ask them to do what they are bred to do, namely race – with a very low level of risk.
“Of the 40,000 or so runners each year in British jump racing the average fatality rate is just below 00.5%.
“It is typical of Animal Aid, who are not a welfare group, nor are they a charity, to exploit sad events like the fatalities at Wetherby in order to drive their own public profile. Animal Aid’s stated aim is to ban all horseracing, despite the disastrous effect this would have on the thoroughbred racehorse as a breed, and the rural economy.”