Open minds advised in review of Cheltenham fatalities
Cheltenham consultant to animal welfare organisation not seeking to apportion blame
There were six equine fatalities that occurred during last week’s Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Cheltenham racecourse has received an early boost from the RSPCA as work begins on a review into the six equine fatalities that occurred during the Festival last week. David Muir, who has long served as racing consultant to the animal welfare organisation, praised the way the track was prepared and presented and said he was not seeking to apportion blame for the deaths of racehorses.
“I don’t think we should be blaming Cheltenham racecourse itself because I think Simon Claisse [its clerk of the course] puts everything he knows into getting that course right for the horses,” Muir said. “In the past, everybody seems to be looking for blame. I don’t think that’s what it’s about. That’s not my game in any way. Nobody there wants to see horses die.”
Muir witnessed three of the fatalities, when Mossback and Report To Base fell and when one of Sandsend’s legs shattered while he was running between hurdles. “There was nothing we could have done about those three,” he said.
“They were simply horses getting it wrong or horses with a possible pre-existing problem, landing on a leg that fractured. Sometimes you can have a hairline that nobody knows about and then it manifests itself on the course. Even the horse might not particularly feel it but when it comes under pressure, then it goes.”
Muir had left the course before the Festival’s final race, the Grand Annual on Friday, in which three horses died. He has watched footage of that and other races, compiling notes about areas of concern and possible investigation. “I’m looking at various issues I’ve seen and identified and I’ll put them to the review,” he said.
These include the design of fences and hurdles, while Muir was interested to hear that Henrietta Knight, who trained Best Mate to win three Gold Cups, has already suggested a smaller field for the Grand Annual.
Knight added the Grand Annual should not be the final race of the Festival, when jockeys might be particularly keen to grab their last chance of a winner. Knight would favour ending the Festival with a hurdle race, while Muir’s preference is for a ‘bumper’, a race on the flat for horses who will be jumpers in time.
Muir’s overriding message was that racing insiders should bring open minds to the review, being organised by the British Horseracing Authority, and he pointed to the 2011 review of the Grand National, which resulted in significant changes. “I think there’s a lot to look at and I don’t think you’ll spoil it. People said the Grand National would be spoiled, it’s not. It’s a bloody sellout.”