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Page last updated at 13:03 GMT, Monday, 14 February 2011

Newbury tragedy: Owner's distress over horse's death

The aftermath in the paddock at Newbury
Organisers called off the final six races at Newbury

Former champion jump jockey Graham Thorner has told of his distress after a horse he part-owned died in the paddock at Newbury racecourse.

Thorner, who won the 1972 Grand National on Well To Do, watched in horror as Marching Song collapsed on Saturday. Another racehorse, the JP McManus-owned Fenix Two, also died in the parade ring before the first race.

An inquiry and post-mortems were announced, with accidental electrocution blamed following some form of electric shock emanating from underneath the paddock.

I know him, he knows me - he was part of the family

Graham Thorner on Marching Song

"I took my horse there and he was killed, he didn't die. He was killed by something, and that is fact as far as I'm concerned," Thorner told BBC Sport.

"When it first happened my mind went beserk, it's like a Dick Francis novel. Everyone's so confused, thinking what can it be?"

Marching Song ran in the same claret and blue colours as triple Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Best Mate, who was owned by Aston Villa fan Jim Lewis.

Lewis had bought a share in Marching Song for his wife Jennifer, who is one of a four-strong owners' syndicate along with Thorner, Clive Buckle and Bob Garner.

Thorner told how the horse recognised him before tragedy struck.

"Before it all happened he won the prize for best turned-out horse, I called to him 'good boy' and he walked towards me," said Thorner, who was champion jockey in the 1970-71 season.

"How many horses can pick out their owners like that? That's how much the horse meant to me, I know him, he knows me, he was part of the family."

Fenix Two was an unraced six-year-old, trained by Jonjo O'Neill in Gloucestershire while Marching Song had run in eight races, finishing second twice and third once.

"We were expecting a good run from the horse, he had great potential," said Thorner.

"In his previous race he had hated the ground, he got bumped three hurdles out and that unsettled him but at the end of the race he went like a turbo jet, pulling double handfuls, and we all thought he was going to win by 25 lengths.

"But he went left at the second last and made a mistake at the last."

The five-year-old finished fifth in that Huntingdon race. Sadly, it proved to be his last.

"I always felt he would run a stone better on good ground but even on Saturday we thought he had a chance of getting third, or perhaps better," said Thorner.

"He would have been even better next year. He wouldn't have been a great horse - but how many horses can you say that about? - but he would have been a good horse who would have given the owners a lot of fun. Every time we went away to the races we came away happy bunnies.

"There are hundreds of horses that cost a fortune that are never any good, more go down than go up, but most of mine go up and this one was one of the best.

"All the jockeys felt this was going to be a good horse over jumps. He was improving by the day and he looked a million dollars. We were expecting a good run from him and then the sky was the limit. He never ran a bad race, he was 100% sound and never missed a day's training, it was very sad."

Marching Song is thought to have been bought by the syndicate for about £10,000 but asked about potentially seeking compensation, Thorner replied: "I haven't even thought about that.

"I just want there to be no wishy-washyness, let's find out what happened. So far there's no reason to think otherwise, they are being all very correct.

"When they drained the track they did the paddock at the same time, so did someone disturb a wire? It's got to be odds-on that electrics killed them."

The racecourse had attracted a crowd of 9,000 for a meeting which was set to feature several contenders for next month's Cheltenham Festival.

Newbury's opening race went ahead, with seven runners taking part, before the rest of the meeting was abandoned.

Trainer Andy Turnell echoed the belief that a freak electrocution was probably to blame for the horses' deaths.

"I just feel very sorry for everybody concerned, the owners and the racecourse. Nobody wants this sort of thing happening. The only good thing is how many of the horses survived," said the trainer, who is based near Swindon in Wiltshire.

Asked about the issue of compensation, Turnell replied: "I haven't discussed it with the owners at all, but I suppose the racecourse will be insured against this sort of thing.

"Marching Song was one of my better novices and a lovely horse to have. He was a lovely horse to have anything to do with."

Graham Thorner was speaking to BBC Sport's Oliver Brett.



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see also
Troubled Newbury card rescheduled
15 Feb 11 |  Horse Racing
Newbury horse 'lucky to survive'
13 Feb 11 |  Horse Racing
Inquiry launched after horses die
12 Feb 11 |  Horse Racing
Newbury deaths like fiction - Henderson
12 Feb 11 |  Horse Racing
Marching Song's trainer Andy Turnell
13 Feb 11 |  Horse Racing
BHA chief Nic Coward on Newbury horse deaths
13 Feb 11 |  Horse Racing
BBC racing coverage
09 Apr 11 |  Horse Racing


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