Animal Aid

Horse race industry in turmoil after Derby death

Posted 5 June 2006

The horse racing industry is in turmoil after the death of a top horse in Saturday's Epsom Derby, the world's premier flat race.

The Coolmore-owned, Irish-trained, 3 year old horse, Horatio Nelson, was destroyed after sustaining catastrophic injuries, including fractured cannon and sesamoid bones, a dislocated fetlock joint and open wounds that exposed severe damage to blood vessels, nerves and ligaments.

In front of millions of TV viewers and just minutes before the start of the race worth £740,000 to the winning owner, there appeared a problem with Horatio Nelson. Concern from his rider, Kieren Fallon, was enough to prompt the course vet, Jenny Hall and trainer Aidan O'Brien, to inspect the horse. After a brief examination, they gave the go ahead for him to run. A quarter of a mile from the finish in the gruelling mile-and-a-half flat race, his right front leg shattered.

It appears that it was a poor decision to allow Horatio Nelson to take part. The BBC was inundated with complaints from the general public. The Racing Post, trade paper of the racing and betting industry, also received complaints, including one from former vet Kevin Constantinou stating: 'Whoever was responsible for allowing him to run should have nothing to do with horseracing. If you saw the horse trotting, he wasn't level on all fours at all, and the way his leg fractured during the race, it was obvious the horse was badly injured prior to the race.' Mr Constantinou, with the support of 35 professional colleagues, said he would be contacting Epsom's managing director, Stephen Wallis, to demand the sacking of racecourse vet Jenny Hall for allowing the horse to run.

Horatio Nelson became the top two year old in Europe at the end of 2005. As a three year old, he started the season with a disappointing run in a major race at Newmarket in May, finishing a well-beaten eighth. This should have given his connections cause for concern for such a fancied horse to run so poorly. Yet his further training for a run in the world's premier race went ahead, with fatal consequences.

This is not the first time horses have died in the Derby. Coshocton had to be destroyed on the racecourse in 2002.

Says Animal Aid Director, Andrew Tyler:

'There is serious doubt about whether Horatio Nelson should have been cleared to race in the Derby. His painful demise illustrates that equine death and suffering are regular features of the horse racing industry. Animal Aid's research shows that the modern racing industry concentrates on breeding a lighter-boned, speedier animal who is more vulnerable to limb damage.'

Notes to Editors

  • Approximately 15,000 foals are born into the racing industry each year, yet only a third go on to become racers. Those horses who do not make the grade may be slaughtered for meat or repeatedly change hands in a downward spiral of neglect.
  • An Animal Aid study of available evidence - including 15,000 pages of race results - shows that around 375 horses are raced to death every year. Some 30% of these fatalities occur during, or immediately after a race, and result from a broken leg, back, neck or pelvis; fatal spinal injuries; exhaustion; heart attack, and burst blood vessels in the lungs. The other victims perish from training injuries or are killed after being assessed by their owners as no-hopers. See our horse deaths report.
  • For a general report on the horse racing industry, see: Riding For a Fall.
  • View our powerful 90-second web film.
  • For more information, contact Andrew Tyler or Dene Stansall on 01732 364546.
  • We have ISDN line for broadcast quality interviews.

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