Cheltenham’s cross country safety questioned again after fatalities

Scotsirish - cross country fatality

It’s just a week since Henrietta Knight expressed her concerns about the safety of Cheltenham’s cross-country course. Yesterday those worries appeared to be borne out after dual Glenfarclas Chase winner Garde Champetre and race favourite Scotsirish each broke a leg on the flat and had to be put down.

Yesterday’s race was run on going described as good to firm, as it had proved impossible to water this track as much as the main course. Knight had been musing on why relatively few British trainers had runners in the race, and thought it might be that because the Irish horses run on soft ground through the winter, they might be more willing to risk firmer going, not something she would do.

Tim Morris, director of equine welfare for the British Horseracing Authority clearly expected some criticism from animal welfare organisations, and was getting his defence in first. He acknowledged that the deaths of the two horses were regrettable, adding that he felt there were not “any undue risks in these races. We must not read too much into what at present is an isolated incident. The important thing is not to draw premature conclusions following two unfortunate accidents.”

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Confirming that the track had been inspected both last week and yesterday morning, he explained that the BHA would take a look at the post mortem results on Garde Champetre and Scotsirish, before pointing out that “It’s not unknown for horses running on flat ground – whether on a racecourse or out hacking in a field – to have a stress fracture. It’s to do with the fundamental principle that horses have single big bones in their legs – hard, brittle and strong, but brittle, and occasionally they do fracture.”

All that is no doubt true, but it won’t do anything to relieve the concerns of Henrietta Knight. Yesterday’s fatalities can only harden the views of those who say that this kind of race has no place at Cheltenham.

Connections of the two horses were naturally upset. Frank Berry, racing manager for JP McManus, who owned Garde Champetre said, “I wouldn’t know where to start. He was a marvellous servant who absolutely loved this course. It’s a very sad way to go.”

Similar sentiments came from Willie Mullins, trainer of Scotsirish, who said, “He broke his leg after the Canal turn. It’s very sad as he enjoyed these races and gave us huge fun.”

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