horse fallingThe British Horseracing Authority launched a review of the Cheltenham Festival back in March after six horses died at the showcase event. The results of that review have now been released, including the information that a seventh horse had to be put down because of the injuries sustained in one of the races, leading the BHA to admit that the very future of the sport is at risk if more isn’t done to ensure the welfare of the horses taking part in races.

The immediate response of those involved was to confirm the implementation of major plans that will improve safety for horses, including alterations to races and extra veterinary checks. The Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority, Nick Rust, confirmed that they would leave ‘no stone unturned’ in the search for a more all-encompassing approach to the safety of participating horses. The review came up with seventeen recommendations, which are being seriously considered by the powers that be in the horse racing industry.

British Horse Racing Must ‘Work Together’

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Among numerous statements made by Mr. Rust, the one that I found the most interesting was the suggestion that British racing needed to ‘work together’ in order to reduce the risks as much as possible in jump racing.

The changes made over the past couple of decades has seen the rate of deaths drop significantly, currently standing at around 0.1% for flat racing and 0.4% for jump racing. The reality is, of course, that this is an inherently dangerous sport and there’s simply no way to completely rule out any risk whatsoever of injury. The same is true for any sport that asks physical demands of its participants.

Rust was quick to point out that the very sport of horse racing itself was under threat unless those involved came together in order to stay ‘ahead’ of the issue. It was a sentiment that was agreed with by the man who runs Cheltenham Racecourse, Ian Renton.

He thanked the BHA for their work and confirmed that the welfare of competitors was their ‘number one priority’, adding that the racecourse would act ‘ in accordance with the recommendations’. The conversation around the safety of horses taking part in races was reignited by the death of four racehorses during a meeting at Scotland’s Musselburgh course.

Recommendations Made By The BHA

cheltenham course fence close up

The British Horseracing Authority came up with a list of seventeen proposals that they feel would help to protect horses taking part in races in the future. They were all part of a 67-page report that was based on the organisation’s extensive look at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. Some of the key proposals were as follows:

  • Looking closely at both trainers and jockeys that tend to have more falls than the average
  • Taking a look at the conditions of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle in order to encourage owners and trainers to select jockeys based on their experience rather than the ability to claim a larger weight allowance
  • Reducing the Grand Annual Chase’s participation number from 24 to 20
  • Targeting alterations to the conditions of races during the Cheltenham Festival and enhancing the veterinary checks currently in place

There were also some recommendations that were applicable to the wider racing community as a whole, rather than specifically for the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival. One of these included a large project that would build a ‘predictive risk model’ in order to help develop future race reforms.

‘Still More To Do’ - World Horse Welfare Organisation

world horse welfare organisationThe World Horse Welfare organisation, who consistently look at the manner in which racecourses and organisers protect the welfare of the horses that take part in their events, believe that the review by the BHA is a step in the right direction, but are adamant that it needs to be just ‘the start of the journey’ in terms of addressing the attrition in horse racing.

The charity was clear that they appreciate the feedback given to Cheltenham Racecourse by the British Horseracing Authority, but are keen to ensure that they industry actually takes things on board and responds with action. They suggested that if not enough was done to address the problems raised then the industry’s ‘social license to operate’ would be under threat.

They also feel that it’s important that racing as a whole needs to be ‘accountable to society’ moving forward.

Grand National Could Be The Industry’s Touchstone

aintree racecourse signThe Grand National, which is held at Aintree in Liverpool every April and is considered to be one of the most important single races in the jump racing calendar, could be used as something of a touchstone for Cheltenham and the industry as a whole moving forward.

Once thought of as one of the most physically challenging races of the year, alterations were made to the event back in 2012 and there have been no fatalities in the race since then.

The Cheltenham Festival is seen as being even more important to the horse racing industry than the National, if for no other reason than it takes place over four days and welcomes crowds in excess of 200,000.

Boasting such iconic races as the Champion Hurdle and, of course, the Gold Cup, it is horse racing’s showpiece event. With 7 horses having died in 2016, 4 in 2017 and then another 7 this year, however, it has been the subject of attacks from welfare organisations who want more to be done to protect the participants.

Political Pressure Adds To The Desire To Reform

petitionThe pressure placed on MPs by the welfare organisations might well be part of the reason why the British Horseracing Authority has been so strong in its review of the Festival, fearing the worst if political groups begin to get involved in the reformation plans for the sport.

That political pressure was brought about by more than 100,000 people singing an e-petition asking for the government to set up a new independent equine welfare regulator that would be separate and distinct from the British Horse Racing Authority.

It resulted in a debate in parliament back in October, which could well explain the BHA’s insistence on the industry making changes or else risk the sport in its entirety coming under threat.