Probe into deaths of four horses at one race day

October 21, 2009

Wetherby racecourse is under fire after several racehorse deaths at the track.

British racing authorities are probing the circumstances behind the deaths of four racehorses in one day at a meeting in Yorkshire, England.

The incident-plagued track at Wetherby has come under fire from the animal welfare group, Animal Aid.

The group is demanding that the British Horseracing Authority suspends all further racing at Wetherby until an independent evaluation of the ground can be undertaken by specialists.

The track had undergone substantial remedial work, worth £50,000, in the off-season after heavy criticism of the surface during last season's racing.

The October 15 meeting, the first at Wetherby since May, saw two horses die in the feature race, the Bobby Renton Chase. Divex, an eight-year-old gelding, broke his foreleg and 11-year-old Marrel fractured a hind pastern. Another horse, Tom's Toybox, sustained a serious fetlock injury.

The meeting also resulted in the deaths of Nut Hand, who finished his race severely lame, and Miss Gibboa, who fell in the last race of the day, breaking a leg. Both were three-year-olds.

The number of fatalities at Wetherby for this year now stands at nine.

Animal Aid said it had flagged the likelihood of injuries and fatalities at the West Yorkshire course track over concerns about the condition of the ground and drainage issues, following the widening of the adjacent highway in 2007.

"The racing not only presented testing running conditions of Good to Firm, but additionally, the unusually high eight racecard day meant that any problems with the ground would have intensified throughout the day," the group said.

"Consequently, it could be argued that Miss Gibboa's death, in the final event, was all the more predictable."

The British Horsracing Authority's media manager, Paul Struthers, said his organisation had worked closely with Wetherby officials throughout the summer.

"As well as numerous visits to the course by our Racecourse Inspectorate, we asked them to produce a week-by-week plan of the proposed work to be carried out on the racing surface during the off-season.

"This plan was validated by an independent, professional agronomist and passed to both the National Trainers Federation and Professional Jockeys Association for their input.

"Wetherby had received positive reports about the ground ahead of the meeting and we are not aware of any complaints made about the ground on the day," he said.

"It is always desperately sad when a horse has to be put down as a result of injuries sustained during racing. In circumstances such as these it is our policy to undertake a thorough review and look into all of the circumstances - the course, the horses, the injuries and any other relevant information - in an attempt to establish whether or not there are common factors involved.

"We have already requested reports from our Racecourse Inspectorate, veterinary team and stewards, who were all in attendance yesterday.

"We will await receipt of the reports and our other findings and will then liaise closely with the racecourse, trainers, jockeys and the RSPCA."

Wetherby's difficulties began in 2007 when the nearby highway work forced a new track layout at the course. The new sections of the track have posed the greatest problems.