I tuned in late to BBC Points West tonight, specifically to get the weather forecast. I was a little early and found myself watching a live report from Cheltenham at the end of the horse racing festival. The reporter was interviewing a suit from the Jockey Club who was gushing about the record crowds, as well as the state of the course and the quality of the racing. Earlier, I had heard a similarly gushing John Inverdale on BBC Radio Five Live, praising the wonder of Cheltenham and wondering why the meeting couldn’t be extended by another day. His interviewer replied that he doubted whether the livers of the spectators could stand it. Oh, how they laughed. In neither report was there any reference to the death toll.
Until today, “only” two horses had died at Cheltenham which was way down on usual. On Tuesday, one horse had died after breaking its neck and another had to be destroyed. Gold Cup day restored Cheltenham’s ghastly reputation as being the main killing field of horse racing with three horses having to be destroyed.
For some reason, there were no references that I heard in the media. All the talk was of the stuff I have described above. The drunkenness, the craic, the spectacle of beautiful animals in peak condition was all they talked about, as well as the ladies’ dresses and did I mention the drunkenness? At no point did Inverdale mention the carnage that had taken place today as didn’t Ali Durden on the BBC.
I don’t know why the media imposes such a degree of self-censorship, as if the death of so many participants doesn’t matter. I rather think that if five jockeys had died this week, we might just have heard about it. But they’re only horses, aren’t they? And they shoot horses.
Although Cheltenham is the worst offender when it comes to deaths at British horse racing, it needs to be pointed out that deaths are common, even expected. A fatality occurs every couple of days. This week alone, as well as the five deaths at Cheltenham, three died at other meetings. On the rare occasions the slaughter of horses is mentioned in the media, the apologists say that it’s a dangerous sport and accidents will happen. Yes, the humans involved do, but the horses, who almost certainly have no idea they are actually racing in the first place, probably do not know the risks.
I’ve no interest in horse racing. I know for many Cheltenham is the high point in the racing calendar. For me, it’s the almost daily slaughter of beautiful animals which did not evolve into creatures that can survive the regular falls. To celebrate a day during which three of them were destroyed is beyond me.
CORRECTION: Four horses were slaughtered today and not three. Apologies for any distress caused.