The UK's Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire, is one of the most prestigious meetings in the National Hunt racing calendar. Second only to the Grand National in prize money, the four-day meeting which culminates in Cheltenham Gold Cup Day, is currently under a cloud after three horses died on the opening day Tuesday, followed by two more horses on Wednesday.
Garde Champetre, Scotsirish and Educated Evans all broke their legs on the opening day and had to be euthanized. Featherbed Lane also suffered a broken leg in the Coral Cup on Wednesday; Abergavenny died after the race.
It was the worst death toll in one day at the Festival since 2006, when five horses were killed in the course of one afternoon said Animal Aid
, one of the UK's largest animal rights groups. The deaths led to the formation of Animal Aid's Race Horse Death Watch
, a database launched during the 2007 meet. The database has since monitored all thoroughbred deaths on Britain’s racecourses.
Going conditions at racetracks can dramatically affect the outcome of any horse race. Cheltenham's race course this year was assessed as firm. With little absorption from the ground, horses tend to run faster, elevating the potential for critical incidents.
Animal Aid spokesman Dene Stansall suggested the opening day's races should have been cancelled. Stansall told the BBC
"The race in which Scotsirish and Garde Champetre were killed should never have taken place, given that it was dangerously firm ground."
But British Horseracing Authority (BHA) spokesman Robin Mounsey said: "Like most competitive sports, racing carries risks." Mounsey, who called the deaths "regrettable" added, "detailed data will be collected by the BHA examining the type of injury in question and the context in which it took place."
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse, defended the race to Sky News
. Claisse said, "we'd had 27 races and 375 runners on the cross-country course since 2000 and up until today only one fatality." Although "we try to minimise the risk as much as we can" he said, "sadly these things happen." Stansall disagrees. Back in 2011, the spokesman described Cheltenham as "Britain’s most notorious death trap for race horses."
Meanwhile HBO's new racing series Luck
has been cancelled after one season the Wall Street Journal
reported yesterday. Plagued by similar equine tragedies, Luck
earned the wrath of animal activist group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, after two horses died during the filming of the first series. A third horse injured and euthanized at Santa Anita Park racetrack last Tuesday, only sealed the series' fate.
The American Humane Association, which oversees the care of animals during productions, told WSJ, in light of the three deaths "this is arguably the best decision HBO could have made." PETA called safety guidelines used during filming "inadequate."