Sedgefield racecourse has responded to criticism that it is the most dangerous in the country by re-siting the final fence in the home straight. The Johnny Ridley Fence has been moved closer to the stands and will be in use for the first time at it's new position at today's meeting.
Animal Aid, an animal welfare group, had been particularly vociferous about the course, and following the meeting on 13 June when three horses were killed following falls, had called for the course to be closed down. Those casualties brought the total number of fatalities at Sedgefield to 33 since March 2007, according to the group.
Dene Stansall, speaking for Animal Aid said, "Sedgefieldâ€™s record of race horse deaths is second to none. Neither the racecourse, its owners Northern Racing, nor the welfare regulator, the British Horseracing Authority, seem willing or able to deal with what is a major welfare problem. There should be no second chances with this racecourse. There is only one logical course of action to stop further horse deaths, and that is to shut the place down."
Demonstrating this is clearly not the case, Jim Allen, head of racing development at Northern Racing, outlined the rationale for moving the fence. "The fence was slightly downhill, and we had a chat about it among trainers and jockeys during our summer break. The general consensus was that it should be slightly uphill, so we've moved closer to the stands. Now there's less of a drop, which is what people wanted."
Allen went on to explain how the fence had been tested to ensure that it reduce the risk of falls. "We've had trials this summer using the newly sited fence. Ferdy Murphy and Chris Grant both brought horses here, and they both gave it the thumbs up afterwards."