Report on six fatalities at British jumps racing festival makes 17 recommendations

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Cheltenham Racecourse. Photo: Cheltenham Festival Review 2018 report
Cheltenham Racecourse. Photo: Cheltenham Festival Review 2018 report

Seventeen recommendations have been made in a 67-page report following the deaths of six racehorses in Britain during the four-day flagship jumps festival at Cheltenham last March.

The popular Cheltenham Festival brings together the best British and foreign-trained horses to contest some of the most prestigious and competitive races in the British Jumps racing calendar.

Six horses died in racing during the 2018 festival, with three of them in the final race on the final day.

A seventh horse was euthanised shortly after the festival following complications from surgery, it was revealed.

The report noted that the six fatalities represented a rate of 1.3% of runners at the festival, compared to the nationwide jumps racing average of 0.4%.

Cheltenham’s non-festival 8-year average is 0.6% and the festival 8-year average is 0.8%.

The deaths understandably caused considerable unease and discussion, both inside and outside the industry, the foreword to the report noted, which prompted the review.

Expert video analysis concluded that interference was not a leading factor in the six fatalities. All horses fatally injured had run at least twice in the preceding core jump seasons, from October to March; five had run four or more times.

All except one had more than 10 career starts.

One of the horses who died had previously suffered an injury sustained at a racecourse, the report team noted.

The Review Group made 17 recommendations aimed at improving safety and welfare at Cheltenham and all jumps racecourses.

Cheltenham-specific recommendations include enhanced veterinary checks and targeted alterations to race conditions.

Wider recommendations include an ambitious project to build a predictive risk model for all jumps racing to assist policy and welfare reforms in the future.

The central areas of focus for the review fell across six broad categories: the courses; the obstacles; participant factors; starts, safety factors and race tempo; programming and race conditions; and veterinary histories and protective measures.

Detailed analysis covered all races run at the festival from 2007 to 2018, including 5451 runners and 308 fallers.

The evidence found that no single factor was definitively responsible for the equine fatalities at the 2018 festival, and that non-track factors – such as veterinary, participant, and race condition factors – could potentially be of equal, or potentially greater, significance than track-related factors.

The report recommendations have been designed to reflect this.

British Horseracing Authority chief regulatory officer Brant Dunshea said the scale of research and evaluation carried out for the report had resulted in a greater understanding of the variable factors that contribute to risk at the festival.

The result, he said, was a set of tangible recommendations expected to collectively make racing at the festival safer.

“The publishing of this report does not by any means represent the end of our commitment to enhancing welfare standards, at Cheltenham racecourse and across all British racecourses.

“The report itself has found that non-track factors are likely to be contributing to risk at Cheltenham, and the same may be true across all of jumps racing.

“For this reason this project has become a springboard for wider research to better identify risk factors in jumps racing, above and beyond the continuous programme of innovation and improvement which has made the sport significantly safer in the last 20 years.”

The authority says it intends to engage with participants to further identify factors that contribute to risk. This will include undertaking analysis of fall rates by trainer and jockey for Cheltenham and all jumps racing, and engaging with those who have an incidence of fallers significantly higher than the average.

It says the industry must support a major research project to develop a predictive model for identifying risk factors for all jumps racing, including horse history and performance, rider and training factors.

An action plan for implementing the recommendations will be developed by no later than February 2019, working with Cheltenham, Jockey Club racecourses and others as required.

Authority chief executive Nick Rust said British racing must work to reduce the risk of injuries occurring at the festival and in jumps racing as a whole.

He praised the review for its rigour and thoroughness.

“I also support the fact that its recommendations are intended to further raise the bar when it comes to welfare not only at Cheltenham, but across all of jumps racing.”

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