Animal Aid

Deathwatch 2012: New report reveals shocking horse death toll at Cheltenham and Aintree

Posted 5 March 2013

As the racing industry PR machine gears up to hard-sell the Cheltenham Festival and the Aintree Grand National, a new Animal Aid report reveals that jump racing’s two favourite venues were the most lethal for horses during the 12 months of 2012.

Ten horses perished at Cheltenham – more than at any other course. But when horse deaths are assessed against the number of days’ racing in which they occurred, Aintree tops the list with six horses killed in just eight days of racing. The Cheltenham equine fatalities occurred at the course in 16 days.

The release of Animal Aid’s Deathwatch 2012 report marks the start of a concerted public campaign aimed at highlighting the brutal reality behind racing’s deceitfully glossy image.

Other initiatives during March and early April include:

  • A visit to Cheltenham, on 7 March, by a converted ambulance emblazoned with stark protest imagery and messages. On the side of the vehicle, a powerful short film will be screened continuously. Leafleting will take place outside every major bookmaker in Cheltenham, and ethical cosmetics retailer, Lush, will feature a striking window display. This will draw attention to the horses who have died at recent festivals.
  • Animal Aid has written to Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood, the Leader of the Borough Council, and to each councillor. The letters highlight Cheltenham Racecourse’s appalling death toll, and calls upon them to demand an explanation from those in charge of the racecourse. In a Gloucestershire Echo article (March 12, 2012), Mr Horwood was reported as describing the Grand National as a ‘dangerous pantomime’ and said that the Cheltenham Festival is ‘a class apart from all that’. Animal Aid has pointed out to Mr Horwood that, while the Aintree’s April 2012 meeting killed three horses, five died at the Cheltenham Festival just a month earlier.
  • There will also be a protest on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival itself (12 March) at which ‘tombstones’ bearing the names of the dead thoroughbreds will be displayed, while a mourner reads out a short eulogy for each horse.
  • A series of equally forceful initiatives relating to Aintree will be announced shortly.

The core of Animal Aid’s new Deathwatch report derives from the unique online database of the same name, established in March 2007, which records all known deaths on Britain’s racecourses. Details offered include the name of the rider, the injury sustained by the horse, the type of race and the racecourse condition.

In 2012, 143 deaths were recorded. However, the true figure is likely to be about 30 per cent higher. The British Horseracing Authority, racing’s regulator, refuses to publish clear and complete data on horses killed. While Animal Aid makes every effort to catalogue all horse fatalities, a number are missed.

Causes of the 143 deaths included broken limbs, backs and shoulders, as well as cardiovascular failure. Many of the injuries can be attributed to the ground being too heavy or firm, or to the difficulty of the fences.

One hundred of the 143 deaths occurred on National Hunt courses and no fewer than 43 of Britain’s 60 racecourses saw a fatality last year. Multiple deaths at meetings were common. Cheltenham, Hereford and Taunton each saw three horses die in a single day of racing. Ten racecourses saw two horses killed at a single meeting.

In recent years, it is equine fatalities at the Aintree three-day meeting that have attracted the most negative publicity. But over the long haul, the Aintree Grand National meeting and the Cheltenham Festival can match each other for the number of horses killed. Between 2000 and 2012, each event saw a total of 38 fatalities.

Cheltenham still holds the record for the most deaths in modern times on a single day of racing. At the 2006 Cheltenham Festival, no fewer than six horses died on the third day of the four-day meeting – three of them in one race. A further five had perished by the time that meeting was over.

Since the start of Deathwatch (March 2007), 43 horses have been killed at Cheltenham – more than at any other British racecourse.

Says Animal Aid’s Horseracing Consultant Dene Stansall:

‘This report makes for sad reading. Each of those 143 horses has an individual story to their death. Horrific limb injuries, broken necks and heart attacks are the price horses pay for public entertainment. The British Horseracing Authority, which self-regulates the welfare of race horses, is clearly not fit for purpose. It should be replaced by an independent body, which will prioritise the thoroughbreds' welfare.’

Notes to editors

More information

  • For full background and interviews, contact Andrew Tyler or Dene Stansall on 01732 364546

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