It’s March and it’s nearly time for the Greatest Horse Racing Meeting in the World.™ Yes, it’s the Cheltenham Festival, where 60,000 people gather for four days, wearing absurd clothes and silly hats, in order to get blind drunk and watch horses die. Oh, sorry, no. Forget that bit. To enjoy a wonderful spectacle. Yes, that’s it.
In fact, the BBC reports, right at the end of its on-line preview, that ‘welfare is in the spotlight’. That’s a relief then. Clearly someone is concerned by the carnage that takes place every time there’s a meeting at the oldest continuous horse racing festival in the world. The Beeb adds: ‘Seven veterinary officers and 10 veterinary surgeons – more than four times as many as the Authority’s code requires – will be at the track for the four days.’ However, they don’t say why so many vets will be there. The article merely refers to excessive use of the whip. The elephant in the room is horse deaths.
Deaths during sporting events are very rare, except when it comes to horse racing. I suppose we accept the death tolls because the victims are ‘only’ horses. But let’s get some level of perspective here. In the last 4746 days, 2039 horses have died racing. Cheltenham saw six horse deaths last year, three of which occurred during last year’s festival. In the last 12 years, 102 horses have died at Cheltenham. That’s the real reason so many vets will be attending and doubtless some of them will be required to kill the horses when they get injured.
I realise that many people really enjoy the spectacle and atmosphere of a major horse racing event. I’ve never been so I can only comment on what I have seen on television. It looks awful to me and on the rare occasions I have tuned in, I have spent more time worrying about the horses getting injured. It’s not for me.
I prefer my sport to be played by participants who actually know they are competing and what they are competing for. I understand that horses are intelligent beasts but I somehow doubt that they know what’s going on, or that they are racing in the first place.
As usual, I won’t be making an effort to watch this year’s festival and I expect that the inconvenient news of horse fatalities will be relegated to small columns inside newspapers and ignored altogether by television companies. After all, who wants to hear about horses dropping dead or being fatally injured? It might upset the children.