The Camel's Back Is Creaking

Yet again a day which should have been good for racing turned out to be a day which will be remembered by many for all the wrong reasons.

I refer, of course, to Saturday’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

A race where the post race  talk should be of Nathaniel becoming the first three-year-old to beat his elders since 2003. It should be remembered as a good tactical ride by young William Buick, a young man who would have been forgiven for having half a mind elsewhere after the tragic events which unfolded in his native Norway less than 24 hours earlier.

Instead it will be remembered for the incident which resulted in the death of Rewilding.

Some have described his loss as tragic, that is simply hyperbole. Yes to lose a horse is sad but it is not tragic . . .  the loss of almost 100 young lives at the hands of a madman some 24 hours earlier in Oslo is tragic so let us have some sense of perspective.

That does not mean, however, we should not be moved by what happened at Ascot on Saturday – indeed it was very upsetting, I admit I shed a tear myself.

I have been following horse racing more years than I care to remember. My earliest racing memory goes back 50 years when I can recall watching grainy pictures of Nicolaus Silver winning the 1961 Grand National.

My preference is for National Hunt racing and therefore I accept the inherent risk that horses are going to be injured and, yes, pay the ultimate price.

Fatal injuries are, thankfully, rare on the flat.

If you choose to follow the sport you have to accept the inherent associated risks.

If, morally, you cannot accept those risks then the answer is walk away from the sport.

That doesn’t, however, mean you do not question your conscience. Indeed it is good to question your attitudes and incidents like Saturday’s are fair triggers to ask such questions.

Sadly I have seen many horses pay the ultimate price but not all fatalities are equal, some conspire to really hit home.

Any equine loss upsets me, it matters not one iota if it is a lowly selling plater or a superstar. Indeed the day I fail to be moved by the death of any horse will be the day I definitely walk away from the sport.

Whilst all equine fatalities are regrettable it is human nature the impact is worse when it is a horse for which you have a soft spot.

For me Rewilding was such a horse.

I was at Goodwood on 19th May last year where he made his British debut and I immediately impressed with his attitude and the manner in which he took the race, to the extent I immediately backed him for The Derby. He was only third, but not disgraced, in The Derby.

He was back to his best when taking the Great Voltigeur at York. He flopped in the St Leger, although I still cannot see why he was even entered for that contest.

This season he showed he was as good as ever and his controversial win at Royal Ascot was not undeserved.

So, for me, the fact he was a favourite horse did make it all the worse.

The other factor making his loss worse was what happened after he broke his leg. Usually the horse stands there waiting for the inevitable. Not with Rewilding he got up and ran two furlongs in front of the packed Ascot stands before he was finally captured.

Watching him running down the track, his broken leg flapping was distressing. The gasps from those who could see were audible.

I know I was just standing on the press balcony repeating no, no, no, no – not believing what I was seeing.

“Fortunately” he ran down the track close to the stands rail, so many in the crowd did not see what was happening.  Those in the more elevated positions in the stands were not so fortunate.

As I said it is unusual, but not unique, for a horse to carry on running after sustain such an injury. That he ran on in front of packed stands made it all the worse.

For me there are two matters the racing authorities should look at as a result of what happened on Saturday.

Firstly, is there something which can be implemented to make catching loose horses easier and quicker. More staff, outriders? I don’t know if there is an answer but there is nothing wrong in asking the question.

Secondly, where a horse is obviously so seriously injured should vets wait for the screens to be erected before putting the horse down? Which is more important, alleviating the suffering of the horse or pandering to the sensibilities of the crowd? To the vast majority of the crowd the end result was inevitable.

One other aspect of events on Saturday has disturbed me and that is the “spin” which has been put on what happened in some quarters.

A statement on the matter from the BHA was worded in such a way that those who did not witness what happened would have been left with the impression the horse was captured and put down immediately. That was not the case, he ran free for over two furlongs and when the screens were eventually put up it was a couple more minutes before he was put down.

Some press headlines also implied the horse was put down almost immediately.

Such spin actually does more harm than good to the sport as it implies racing is trying to cover up what happened.

What happened on Saturday once again made me think long and hard about whether I can morally justify to myself my following of the sport.

In the end Saturday’s incident becomes another straw on the back of the camel. Not quite enough to break it but it is certainly beginning to creak.     



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