A fourth racehorse has died as the result of a jumps racing fall at this year’s Cheltenham Festival in Britain.
Eight-year-old Raya Star fell in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup, the final race on the last day of the four-day festival. He broke his spine and was euthanised.
Welfare group Animal Aid said the two-mile race was run “at a furious pace. And it was another crowded field, featuring more than 20 runners. Several horses were bunched around Raya Star when he fell. Their close proximity may have made it difficult for him to make a clean jump.”
The first fatality was Our Conor, who was euthanised after falling on Monday at the third hurdle in the Stan James Champion Hurdle. The next was Akdam, who was brought down in Wednesday’s Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and suffered a broken front leg. Later in the day, Stack The Deck pulled up lame during the seventh race, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper – a flat race. He was found to have seriously fractured his left-fore knee and was euthanised.
The four deaths at the festival follow on from 11 fatalities in the past five years, including five in 2012.
Animal Aid said that broadcaster Channel 4, in its final day coverage, focused heavily on jockeys who had been injured, both at the Festival and on other courses over the past year, but “failed to mention the names of the previous day’s equine victims when, in barely more than a sentence, it announced that there had been two fatalities after it had finished broadcasting.”
Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler said: “In 2006, eleven horses died and there hasn’t been a Festival since without an equine fatality. There is a simple question Cheltenham and the British Horseracing Authority need to answer: how many deaths at the Festival are too many?’
Leading jockey Ruby Walsh was among the riders injured, sustaining a compound fracture to his right humerus in the opening race on the third day of the festival. He will likely miss the Grand National meeting next month. Earlier in the meeting Walsh had received death threats for his comments after the death of Our Conor on the first day.
Walsh had said that horses were replaceable.
Walsh later clarified his comment, saying he did not mean to sound callous.
“We look after horses like they’re pets,” he said. “There’s a huge difference between your pet and your family. That’s the point I was making.
“There’s a big difference between you going home tonight and something’s happened to your dog, and you go home tonight and something’s happened to one of your kids. There’s a huge difference.”
Animal Aid’s Dene Stansall told the newspaper: “He has shown callousness for the animals that have earned him a good living. It’s completely disrespectful. To treat the death of a horse in such a way shows that they are merely machines for people to make money.”