Cheltenham Festival and Cheltenham Racecourse – the issues, facts and figures

  • Horses have died at the Cheltenham festival every year since 2000, except for 2001 when the festival was cancelled due to Foot and Mouth disease.
  • A total of 69 horses have been killed as a result of racing at the Cheltenham Festival since March 2000.
  • The Cheltenham Festival holds the record for the largest number of horses killed in a single day’s racing – with six fatalities from racing on 16 March 2006. In all, eleven horses died there over the four-day meeting that year.
  • In 2007, Animal Aid launched Race Horse Deathwatch, in order to make public the names of horses who have died as a consequence of racing in Great Britain.
  • Since the creation of Race Horse Deathwatch in March 2007, 45 horses have died at the Cheltenham Festival and a further 60 horses have died as a result of racing in other events at the racecourse – bringing the total number of horse deaths since that date to 105 (as at 18 March 2021; during the 2021 Festival).
  • Cheltenham has been at or near the top of the league of Britain’s most lethal courses for at least 17 years.
  • Animal Aid produced a detailed analysis, entitled Why more horses die at Cheltenham than at any other British racecourse, which looked into some of the problems with Cheltenham Racecourse. The 2014 report highlighted many aspects that resulted in the deaths of horses, including crowded races, extreme race distances, novice horses used in demanding events, stiff (no-give) fences and challenging racing ground. The report was mailed to the British Horseracing Authority, the National Trainers Federation, the Professional Jockeys Association, the Racehorse Owners Association, the Jockey Club and Cheltenham Racecourse. Not one of the associated groups gave a response – and deaths have continued at an alarming rate.
  • On 28 January 2017, race horse Many Clouds, collapsed and died after winning a gruelling race at Cheltenham. Ten months earlier, Animal Aid had warned the regulator, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), that Many Clouds could collapse with fatal consequences if he continued to race. It had been widely reported that the 2015 Grand National winner suffered physically during his races and needed oxygen to recover. In Animal Aid’s view, the welfare of the horse should have been a priority and he should have been retired. Sadly, he was forced to compete in lucrative and challenging events, and ultimately paid the price with his life.
  • In 2018, the BHA announced that it would undertake a review of the deaths at the Festival that year. It took the BHA nine months to produce the report, and many of the recommendations fell well short of what is needed (e.g. reducing the maximum number of horses in a race from 24 to 20 does not go far enough) and, above all, failed to address key issues such as the “win at all costs” mentality of many jockeys at the event, the number of obstacles or the gruelling length of some races. There was no such review announced in 2016 when seven horses died at the annual meeting, or in 2017 when four horses were killed.

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Additional notes

  • Races at Cheltenham have consistently seen jockeys beat their horses with their whips in a mindset of ‘win at all costs’. A public opinion poll in 2018 found that 68% of respondents oppose the use of the whip in racing. When only including those who expressed a view, this figure rose to 83%. Animal Aid is campaigning to secure a ban on the whip for the use of ‘encouragement’ or any similar term, so that it may be carried for safety purposes only.
  • In 2018, Animal Aid secured a Parliamentary debate on race horse welfare. The debate came about as the result of more than 105,000 compassionate people signing a government petition calling for the British Horseracing Authority to be stripped of its responsibility for race horse welfare, and instead for that vital job to be awarded to an independent body of professionals who would hold the industry to account over the shocking rate of race horse deaths and injuries. We continue to campaign for this goal.