The Cheltenham Gold Cup is this week – and at the races, five horses have already died. Eleven in total have been killed over the past five years. Animal rights campaigners call it the most dangerous course in the country.
Abergavenny and seven-year-old Featherbed Lane broke their legs in the Coral Cup, and were put down by vets. The British Horseracing Authority has promised a full investigation, and has pointed out that two out of the five that died weren’t going over jumps. Three horses died on the opening day, and Wishfull Thinking suffered a fall during the Queen Mother Champion Chase, rolled under the rails and injured a photographer. The going was formally recorded as “good” rather than “good to soft”, which brought fears that the racing surface would be a greater risk than normal, after months of dry weather.
Meanwhile, over in America, reported the BBC, the HBO television series Luck has, er, been euthanised, after a third horse was injured and put down. The series, now in its second season, stars Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, and shows life in US horse-racing. The horse didn’t die whilst racing, though: it reared, and fell, sustaning a head injury. The American Humane Association called for the production to be shut down.
So should the sport of kings be banned? Commentators are divided between those who think racing a cruel sport, and those who uphold its excitement.
What do the animal rights brigade say? “We are absolutely appalled and stunned by it, as the vast majority of the public would be,” said Louise Robertson, spokeswoman for the League Against Cruel Sports, quoted on The Daily Telegraph. Andrew Tyler, the director of Animal Aid, said with 28 runners the field was too crowded and made it difficult for them to position themselves safely, quoted on The Guardian.
What do Cheltenham say? Clerk of the course Simon Claisse said: “Regrettably we had three fatalities, two in the cross-country race. We’d had 27 races and 375 runners on the cross-country course since 2000 and up until today only one fatality. We try to minimise the risk as much as we can, but sadly these things happen,” quoted on Sky News.
What does the BHA say? “Like most competitive sports, racing carries risks. No one wants to see valuable and valued racehorses injured so it is regrettable that several horses have now suffered accidents where the injury was not treatable and so euthanasia was the proper and humane option,” quoted on The Daily Telegraph.
Let’s ban horseracing! Yvonne Taylor on The Huffington Post said that 400 horses died each year. Surely we’ve “evolved enough” to see that horses shouldn’t suffer “so people can win a few quid.” The horses spend their time in “cramped stalls”, and are often drugged. Horses can be “viciously whipped” eight times during flat racing, and nine times on the jumps. The Grand National should be renamed the “Grand National Shame.” Who can watch a dying horse with a “shred of conscience”? Horses are little more than “disposable commodities.” We should stay away from race tracks.
Let’s not ban horseracing! Don’t be silly, said Katie Jones, also on The Huffington Post . The sport is already strictly ruled. The Jockey Club has launched the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, to make sure that horses are looked after when they’ve run their final course. The British Horseracing Authority has severe penalties for dangerous riding and misuse of the whip. Vets are always there. Horseracing “celebrates the animals as much as the jockeys who are riding them.” Without it, there would be much less on the sporting calendar; the Irish bloodstock industry – a major contributor to the economy – would vanish, and the betting industry would lose out too. And what about the 70,000 spectators at Cheltenham? The excitement provided by watching a race is paramount. ”In a world that has far bigger concerns,” ” why should we put an end to a sport where accidents happen?”
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