As Cheltenham kills another horse, Animal Aid fears for Denman

Posted on the 13th March 2009

The annual Cheltenham Festival, which has killed 14 horses during the last three years, claimed another victim yesterday (Thursday 12 March). The inexperienced yet heavily backed Clarified fell early in the 4pm Festival Plate race, and was destroyed after suffering catastrophic damage to his hip.

Seven-year-old Clarified had previously been entered into just three races over the big fences, and fell on one of those occasions. Before his fatal fall at the fourth fence yesterday, he had already hit the second fence. His jockey at Cheltenham was also a novice, making Clarified’s chances much less favourable than bookmakers predicted.

Yesterday’s 2-mile-5-furlong race was contested by 23 horses. Three other horses fell and six more failed to complete the race (pulled up).

Despite the serious nature of his fall, TV coverage conspicuously avoided any discussion of his plight, and today the centre of attention is the big race of the meeting – the Cheltenham Gold Cup – and the duel between Kauto Star and last year’s winner, Denman.

The entry of Denman into the testing 3-mile-2-furlong race is not controversial in racing circles despite the fact that he has suffered heart problems, which resulted in an 11-month lay-off from racing between March 2008 and February 2009.

The nine-year-old’s condition, known as atrial-fibrillation, results in an irregular heart beat and is associated with an enlarged heart. Reckless, profit-driven inbreeding by the racing industry has produced a high incidence of such problems. A leading expert on equine cardiology, Dr Lesley Young, told The Guardian on 2 Feb 2009: ‘Breeding for speed and endurance in the thoroughbred has bred a heart and cardiovascular system that is almost too big for itself. Big horses are an atrial-fibrillation accident waiting to happen.’

Despite such a stark analysis by Dr Young, she nonetheless was reasonably confident that, once treated, Denman’s condition was unlikely to cause problems.

Animal Aid, however, remains concerned about Denman’s health as a result of him being entered into such a challenging event that is bound to test his heart to the limit.

Denman’s health worries bring back memories of triple Gold Cup winner, Best Mate (2002, 2003, 2004). He too had a long lay-off from racing because of a serious heart condition, and collapsed and died at his comeback race at Exeter in November 2005.

Says Dene Stansall, Animal Aid’s Racing Consultant:

‘We are seriously worried about Denman being raced in the enormously testing Cheltenham Gold Cup. Surely he deserves better. Having already won the most prestigious event in jump racing, his long-term interests should come first, before any possible short-term gain he may win for his already wealthy owners.’

Note to Editors:

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