Cheltenham holds the record for horses killed in a single day’s racing – with six fatalities on 16 March 2006. Five more died as a result of racing in that same year’s Festival – making a total of 11 dead.
The 2006 carnage prompted Animal Aid to launch Race Horse Deathwatch in March 2007. Since then, we have recorded the deaths of 62 horses at the Gloucestershire course, 22 at the Festival itself.
Cheltenham has been at or near the top of the league of Britain’s most lethal courses for at least 15 years.
Despite its appalling record, neither the course operators nor the British Horseracing Authority seem able or willing to address the situation credibly.
Animal Aid’s Horse Racing Consultant produced a detailed analysis in 2015 of the troubled Gloucestershire course. Called straightforwardly Why more horses die at Cheltenham than at any other British racecourse , it was sent to the British Horseracing Authority, the National Trainers Federation, the Professional Jockeys Association, the Racehorse Owners Association, the Jockey Club and Cheltenham Racecourse. Not one of them bothered even responding.
Key reasons for the high death toll identified in our 2015 report include: crowded races, long distances to run, novice horses used in demanding events, stiff fences and challenging racing ground.
Another major factor contributing to the high death toll is the win-at-all-costs attitude of jockeys, owners and trainers. This arises from the big money prizes, the prestige and self congratulation associated with the event.
This ‘Cheltenham effect’ also leads to horses being thrashed with the whip more often than at run-of-the-mill events. (Whip offences, according to the racecourse stewards' reports, are slightly down for average meetings, but up for the likes of the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree’s Grand National meeting. Read more.