If your idea of fun is watching horses die, then I have some very good news for you. Today sees the start of the notorious Cheltenham Festival where you can be virtually guaranteed plenty of equine fatalities. Given that Storm Gareth threatens to blow across the country today, I doubt that we shall get through a full day of racing without a number of tragedies. As per usual, the media doesn’t appear to give a toss.
Just the ten horses died at Cheltenham in 2018, seven of which happened during the annual festival. A bumper five horses died on 16 March, which certainly kept the men who cart those screens around to ensure we don’t see horses being put down very busy indeed.
You may have gathered that I am not a huge hole racing fan, or any sport in which its main participants have very little idea that they are involved in a sporting event in the first place. I suppose I can see the attraction, for some, of a huge horse racing event where people from all over the British Isles put on their glad rags and get completely wasted, whilst in the background innocent horses risk their lives in the pursuit of someone winning a few bob with a bookmaker.
On 13 March 2007, a website called horsedeathwatch.com was set up, the aim being to record every equine fatality in the horse racing business. In the 4383 days the site has been up and running, 1868 horses have died. Work out the ratios of death per week yourselves. Imagine a ‘sport’ in which actual human beings participated that saw a fatality every two and a half days. I cannot, for one moment, see that sport lasting very long. We would be appalled at the loss of life. So, why aren’t we bothered at the horrendous loss of life of mere horses?
If you are already appalled by the statistics relating to deaths at horse racing meetings, remember that these figures represent only those deaths that are officially recorded. It is believed that the total could actually be some 30% higher and it certainly does not include those who suffer injuries of various types or mention those horses who don’t make the grade, or are regarded as ‘past it’, thousands of whom are killed and dumped every year.
The media coverage will of course focus on happy owners and trainers, underfed jockeys and overfed spectators, all of whom will be celebrating record crowds at the greatest horse racing meeting in the world. Meanwhile, somewhere away from the home straight, men will be erecting tents around stricken horses with broken legs and broken necks, preparing to administer a fatal gunshot to put them out of their misery. I wish someone would administer a fatal metaphorical gunshot to the Cheltenham Festival and every other race meeting where it’s main competitors are expendable and soon forgotten and put them out of their misery.