Animal Aid


Posted 19 March 2008

New report names Britain's most lethal racecourses

Horses are dying on British racecourses at the rate of more than three a week, according to a detailed analysis by national campaign group Animal Aid. The most lethal of all courses was Sedgefield in County Durham, where 11 horses perished in the 17 days of racing staged there over the last 12 months. Most of Britain's 59 racecourses hold a similar number of meetings every year.

Jockeys Richard Johnson and Tom Scudamore each had seven of their mounts die – more than any of their peers.

The figures come from Animal Aid's Race Horse Deathwatch, a unique interactive website that records detailed information relating to on-course equine fatalities. Launched on March 13th 2007 – the start of last year’s Cheltenham Festival – Deathwatch recorded a total of 161 fatalities in its first year.

The project was initiated because the industry itself publishes no such data. As well as naming the horse victims, the jockeys involved and the courses where the fatalities occurred, Deathwatch also specifies the cause of death, the age and rating of the horse, the condition of the ground and other relevant information.

Eighty-five per cent of the victims were claimed by jump (National Hunt) racing, rather than by racing on the Flat. Most horses died as a result of leg, neck or back injuries. But 16 others collapsed – often from a heart attack or haemorrhage – and died.

Wincanton in Somerset was the second most lethal course, with nine fatalities. Four perished at the venue during one day in March 2007. Nine other racecourses experienced two or more deaths in a single day.

On-course fatalities are just part of the story. The best available evidence suggests that they represent around 38% of the total number of in-training horses who are ‘raced to death’ every year – that is to say, horses who die from racing or training injuries or who are killed prematurely for commercial reasons. The total annual ‘raced to death’ figure is about 420 horses.

Given that there are some 15,000 horses currently in training, an annual attrition rate of 420 means that one in 35 Thoroughbreds who start the season will be dead by the end of it.

Says Animal Aid Director, Andrew Tyler:

‘Deaths on British racecourses rarely rate even a sentence in the media and yet horses are dying at the rate of more than three a week. While we were at Sedgefield protesting at its status as Britain's most lethal racecourse, another horse crashed over a fence and died from neck injuries. The racing industry works hard to conceal the bad news from the British public, which is why Animal Aid launched Race Horse Deathwatch. It is now one year old and the information we have gathered in that time makes stark and depressing reading. Horses are dying because of a combination of ignorance, callousness and apathy. Racing's regulatory body needs to lay off the hype and back-slapping and focus properly on the horses to whom it owes a duty of care.’

Race Horse Deathwatch: The First Year is published Tuesday 25 March.

Notes to Editor:

  • Of the approximately 18,000 horses bred each year by the closely related British and Irish racing industries, only around 40% go on to race. Many of the ‘defective’ newborns end up slaughtered for meat, while those who do enter racing suffer a high level of fatal injuries and stress-related illnesses, such as gastric ulcers and bleeding lungs. Around 6,000 British Thoroughbreds leaving racing each year, yet very few are properly provided for in their retirement.
  • View our powerful 90-second web film
  • View our undercover footage of horse slaughter

More information:

  • For full background and interviews, contact Andrew Tyler or Dene Stansall on 01732 364546.
  • ISDN line available for broadcast-quality interviews.
  • Images are available on request.

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