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Last Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006, 19:59 GMT
Jockey Club to investigate deaths
Five horses died during racing on Thursday at Cheltenham
The Jockey Club is launching a review of safety procedures at the Cheltenham Festival after nine racehorses died during the four-day programme.

Two animals died in the first two days, six horses died as a result of falls on Thursday and another fatality in Friday's final race marred National Hunt racing's showpiece event.

"The high number of fatal injuries at Cheltenham this year will be subject to particularly close inspection," said Peter Webbon, Jockey Club director of veterinary science and welfare.

Webbon said club officials will meet Cheltenham bosses, the RSPCA and the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) to discuss any lessons to be learned or action to be taken.

The nine deaths are the worst since 10 were killed at the 1996 Festival.

Cheltenham's managing director Edward Gillespie said the death toll was "unusual and very regrettable".

"I am very sorry for those people who lost their horses here," he said. "It is obviously very regrettable.

"We will review and investigate each and every injury, let alone each and every fatality. Safety is our absolute number one priority here.

"But where there are horses racing there will be injuries - some of which can't be repaired.

Everything we have done is to minimize manageable risk
Cheltenham boss Edward Gillespie

"Perhaps the very open nature of this year's Festival has attracted large numbers of horses. But the field size is something that we've looked at over the years and we've reduced them in many of the races.

"The going is good, no faster, and we are satisfied there isn't a problem with the ground.

"Everything we have done is to minimize manageable risk, and this, it appears, is a combination of different injuries being inflicted sadly on these horses."

On Thursday, Millenaire, Basilea Star and Mr Babbage all died in the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup while two more - Holy Orders and Olaso - broke bones in their legs and were destroyed.

Sh Boom - who fell during the Ladbrokes World Hurdle - died from his injuries early on Friday.

It was the worst one-day death toll at the Festival for 20 years.

Buck Whaley was the final victim of the festival which has been criticised by animal rights campaigners for the high death toll.

The RSPCA is always very concerned when racehorses die
RSPCA spokesman

Animal rights group Animal Aid called for the public to boycott the meeting and suggested that Prince Charles and his wife Camilla should stay away on Friday "out of respect for the horses that have died".

Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler said: "There is no justification for events such as this to continue while routinely horses are dying."

The RSPCA also said it would investigate the high number of fatalities.

A spokesman said: "The RSPCA is always very concerned when racehorses die, and we will look at each incident in great detail to find out what happened and why and then take action as necessary.

"Until our equine vet and equine consultant have thoroughly investigated the circumstances surrounding each death we are unable to say anything further."




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