Here is the typical story of one race horse who was lucky enough to find sanctuary not cruelty

When Underwriter was born in the US in 2000, the racing industry clearly thought that he had potential to make money. As a youngster (yearling) he was taken to the prestigious Deauville ‘bloodstock’ sales in France and purchased on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed, the world’s leading race horse owner. He cost 900,000 French francs (approx. £90,000) and was placed in the stables of top flat racing trainer John Gosden.

UnderwriterBut things didn’t work out successfully. Underwriter was unable to race at all as a two-year-old, and at three he managed only one outing. Although well backed, he finished a poor ninth out of ten runners. Already his financial value had plummeted. Within weeks, he was sent to the sales and sold for a mere £13,000.

The following year (2004), he was gelded.

Moderate success

His next race was one and a half years later, indicating that, like so many race horses, he was probably suffering from injury. By this time he had been stabled with a trainer working in the much more dangerous discipline of jump racing. It is increasingly common for thoroughbreds bred for the more lucrative flat racing circuit to end up relegated to jump racing if they prove unsuccessful. This creates a problem in itself, because ‘jump’ horses are traditionally selectively bred to be heavier-boned and more robust than the speedier animals who race on the flat. But nowadays it has become increasingly common for those who face hurdles and fences to be – like Underwriter – ‘cast-offs’ from the flat.

Underwriter suffered some dangerous falls, but survived. He ran regularly for three years and did reasonably well, even winning some minor races. His estimated winnings topped £10,000. Although he never raced at the Grand National Aintree course, he did race on some top circuits, including Cheltenham.

At the end of this period, however, Underwriter’s economic value slumped further. He changed hands again and again, and was eventually sold at a knockdown price of only £2,200 in May 2008. He wasn’t seen back on an official racecourse until November 2011, when he finished a distant tenth out of 11 in a poor-quality race. This failure marked the end of his career.

Saved from a cruel fate

What happened over the next year remains unknown, but clearly none of his previous owners were ready to provide a home for his retirement. In December 2012, he emerged at a rock-bottom horse sale at Beeston in Cheshire, standing amongst a mix of ponies and horses who would fetch next to nothing and almost certainly go for slaughter. The main bidder was the notorious Red Lion Horse Abattoir in Nantwich. Underwriter was on the point of being purchased for slaughter and eventual human consumption.

It was at this point that he finally got lucky. At the sale that day was Wendy Valentine from Hillside Animal Sanctuary, attending as part of an undercover investigation of the Nantwich slaughterhouse. She bid directly against the Red Lion’s buyer and managed to secure a future for Underwriter and three others. ‘Having seen what the horses would go through, we felt we had to at least save some lives and bring them back to a better place for the rest of their natural days’, Wendy explains.

Underwriter has won the hearts of his new carers, who speak warmly of his ‘lovely nature’. He has been living at Hillside for more than a year now and continues to thrive.

Each year, more than 1,000 others are less fortunate.

Red Lion Slaughterhouse, Nantwich

Owned by Derek Turner, the Nantwich enterprise was rarely out of the news in the first few months of 2013.

  • The Hillside Animal Sanctuary undercover investigation revealed horses beaten with an iron rod to ‘encourage’ them into the pens; sick or injured animals left untended overnight rather than put down immediately; and horses crammed into slaughter pens in pairs when they should not be killed in the sight of one another because of the distress it causes. All are breaches of the law.
  • Red Lion was also at the centre of a fake horse passport investigation by the BBC that exposed a criminal scam to smuggle horses from Ireland with false documentation. The slaughterhouse denied any knowing involvement.
  • Finally, in April 2013 the slaughterhouse was closed down by the Food Standards Agency in the wake of the horsemeat scandal. Conditions were deemed a hazard to human health.