Welfare groups condemn five horse deaths at Cheltenham

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The deaths of five horses in two days at the Cheltenham racing festival shows the unacceptable face of racing, a British RSPCA spokesman says.

The charity’s equine consultant, David Muir, was commenting after the deaths of Featherbed Lane and Abergavenny on the second day of the festival meeting. They were killed in the 4pm Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle.

Winners' enclosure at Cheltenham. © Jongleur100

Abergavenny is understood to have fractured an elbow, while Featherbed Lane was pulled up after breaking a leg.

Animal Aid weighed in on the latest deaths, labelling the festival a bloody and unforgiving event, and said calling it a sporting event was a travesty.

Muir, who is at the Gloucestershire racecourse for the four-day festival to monitor horse welfare, said: “These deaths show the unacceptable face of horse racing. Any death on any racecourse simply cannot be justified.”

Their deaths follow three horse fatalities on the first day of festival racing.

Scotsirish, 11, and Garde Champetre, 13, were both injured during the the 3-mile 7-furlong cross-country handicap chase. Officials said both sustained their injuries when on the flat between fences. Scotsirish fractured a hind cannon bone near a fence described as similar to Aintree’s Canal Turn, while Garde Champetre fractured a foreleg. There were 16 runners in the race.

Educated Evans, a seven-year-old, reportedly broke a hind leg at the second last fence in the final race of the day, a two-and-a-half mile novice chase which had 20 starters.

The RSPCA said it was concerned and upset over the deaths.

It said it was at the festival to ensure that if any lessons can be learned from these deaths, it would lobby the British Horseracing Authority for change.

The charity also voiced concern over whip use at the festival – the first major race meeting in Britain since changes to the whip rules were announced by racing authorities  last month.

It said it was disappointed that the whip has been used excessively by five jockeys during the festival.

RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “We welcome punishment for excessive use of the whip and will be examining if the level of penalty at the Cheltenham Festival is sufficient.”

Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler said: “The news that five horses have now been killed in just two days of racing at Cheltenham confirms the reputation of the festival as a bloody and unforgiving event.

“The race that claimed today’s two victims could easily have killed more, given the numerous alarming incidents.

“It featured an insanely crowded field of 28 runners, who would have found it difficult to position themselves safely when approaching the numerous obstacles.

“Adding to the risk was the noisy, frenetic Festival atmosphere in which the horses have to race. Cheltenham has now killed 38 horses since 2000. Calling it a sporting event is a travesty.”

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