The loss of a racehorse through injury is an event to bring sadness to the owners and stable at any time. When it happens in a race it can seem more tragic, simply because it then becomes a public event.
Just such an accident happened yesterday in the St James’s Palace Stakes when Juddmonte Farms’ The Nile broke down on the home bend and had to be put down. Jockey William Buick described it as “the most horrific accident I’ve been involved in.”
Thankfully there was no outcry from animal welfare organisations such as the RSPCA and Animal Aid, though this was in marked contrast to their response when horses have suffered fatal injuries in the major National Hunt meetings at Cheltenham and Aintree. In those circumstances they have been instant in their condemnation of just about everything to do with the races: the number and quality of runners, the height and construction of fences, and the way jockeys have ridden.
In this year’s Grand National, Synchronised and According To Pete both had to be put down after breaking a leg, exactly the same injury that led to the death of The Nile yesterday. So why the silence from animal welfare organisations?
In my view, there’s a simple answer to that. In a flat race pretty much all you can say is that the horse sustained an injury while it was running. It was nothing more than an unfortunate accident. There’s nothing that can be blamed for it. There’s nothing to make a fuss about. There’s no mileage in making a fuss or creating a stink over it.
How different in the National and the Gold Cup. With jumping, it is so much easier to conjure up a vision of cruelty and hurt to the horses, which is totally unjust. And that’s just the angle that those organisations emphasise, albeit under the guise of making “helpful” suggestions to make the race safer. There’s nothing to be said about that in flat racing.