In my eight years as a professional racing photographer in the UK in the 80’s and 90’s over both the flat and the jumps, I never witnessed one fatality at Cheltenham. Now it is a regular occurrence and the number of deaths is getting higher. What in the hell is going on? Is it the courses, bad trainers or a weakened breed? —Editor.
THE SPORTING LIFE reports:
The death of Niceonefrankie at the Cheltenham Festival brought the tally of fatalities to five in the opening three days of the meeting.
Venetia WIlliams’ 10-year-old, winner of the December Gold Cup at the track two years ago, fell late on in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate.
His unfortunate passing added to those of The Govaness, Rezorbi and Pont Alexandre, who suffered fatal injuries on the opening day of the meeting, while it was confirmed on Thursday morning that No More Heroes had been put down after damaging a tendon in the RSA Chase on Wednesday.
Sophia Dale, communications manager for Jockey Club Racecourses South West, said: “Niceonefrankie sustained an injury in the fifth race of the day and was sadly put down due to the nature of the injuries he sustained and our thoughts are with his connections.
“The other horse in the race, Quincy Des Pictons, was walked on to a horse ambulance and taken away for assessment and will be transferred to a veterinary hospital in the not too distant future.”
Speaking earlier in the day, RSPCA equine consultant David Muir admitted the deaths are “deeply concerning” but was keen to assess each case individually, rather than make a knee-jerk reaction to the incidents.
He said: “Obviously the deaths are deeply concerning to us, but we need to consider each fatality individually before making an informed comment.
“I look at the fatalities once the meeting is over and the first thing I do is satisfy myself that the course was prepared in the right manner and from there we look at the issues relating to each death.
“I look at any issues of culpability and then see what we can learn for the future and once we have finished, hopefully the British Horseracing Authority take our comments on board.
“I’ve been concerned by the way hurdles react in races and have recently been looking at the issue of penultimate and ultimate hurdles where the fields really start to race and the possibility of an increased risk.”
Muir admits the sheer volume of runners at the Festival must be taken into consideration as the number of contenders far outstrips regular day-to-day action.
“You can’t really compare Haydock or Hexham, with five or six runners, to Cheltenham, where there are 20 or 22 runners in many of the races.
Photo Credit / Featured Image: Sew On Target, ridden by Brendan Powell, Niceonefrankie, ridden by Charlie Deutsch, and Kings Palace, ridden by Tom Scudamore, race during the 4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate during the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse in England Thursday. Niceonefrankie died from injuries sustained in the race. Paul Childs/Action Images/Reuters.