Thursday, 14 March 2013

Cheltenham: Make horse racing safer, but don’t ban it!
The carnage at Becher's Brook, Aintree in 1989

Following the deaths of five horses at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and further concerns from animal rights protestors ahead of the meeting this time around, the time has come to make horse racing safer.

“Football has Wembley, tennis has Wimbledon, jump racing has Cheltenham.”

Those were the words of Cheltenham Festival aficionado Chris Flavell this week as horse racing fans flocked to the South West for a packed four days of atmosphere, anticipation and action in one of racing’s biggest calendar events.

Last year jockey Tony McCoy won the Gold Cup on the final day aboard champion gelding ‘Synchronised’ – but just months later the horse was led to his death in the Grand National after unseating McCoy at the infamous Becher’s Brook fence.

Obviously such events are a rare and tragic circumstance of National Hunt racing, but they serve to highlight that measures must be put in place to make racing safer and ensure the true sporting spectacle can continue to be enjoyed for many years to come.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claim that more than 400 horses die racing in the UK each year. Many of these fatalities can be avoided and occur because the courses are too testing on the animals and landing areas are not secure.

Both the courses at Cheltenham and at Aintree, which is used for the Grand National, have been slowly altered over time to increase safety - but these modifications are always too little, too late. It is time for the steeplechase bigwigs to realise we are not living in 1989 anymore and make safety a top priority!

Whipping rules have recently been brought into place, but again these are insufficient. Horses can still be fiercely whipped eight times during flat racing and nine times on the jumps. Horse racing does not need whipping and some jockeys refuse to use whips and still win convincingly. They should be banned altogether.

70,000 spectators will be cheering on the Gold Cup winner this Friday in Cheltenham’s grand finale - let us all hope that horse racing can soon become safer, before it risks facing its own final curtain call.

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