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BHA Forced to Investigate After Day of Tragic Fatalities at Musselburgh

Musselburgh Racecorse Entrance Signage
Image by Renata, Wikimedia Commons

An otherwise low-key race meeting at Musselburgh on Monday turned into tragedy with four horses dying on a dark day for the sport.

Smart Ruler, trained by Jimmy Moffatt, passed away mid-race after collapsing onto the turf, while Leather Belly, Sierra Oscar and Kensukes Kingdom also lost their lives on a sad day for all parties.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has confirmed that they will be investigating the circumstances that led to the deaths, although Musselburgh officials are adamant that conditions at the track were not to blame.

The BHA’s Robin Mounsey said: “The incidents at Musselburgh were extremely distressing for everyone involved in the sport, not least for the owners of the horses and the trainers and stable staff who cared for them through their lives.

“Work will now be undertaken to identify if there are any risk factors at the course, or with the horses, that might have contributed to these incidents.

“We will work with the racecourse, and the BHA’s inspector of courses will be visiting Musselburgh in the coming days to carry out a full inspection.”

Conditions ‘As Good As We’ve Ever Experienced’

Fields in Winter

Naturally in such freak occurrences, the finger of blame was initially pointed at all of those tasked with preparing the Musselburgh track.

But the course’s chief executive Bill Farnsworth, backed by Jimmy Moffatt, was firmly supportive of his staff. “The conditions at Musselburgh yesterday were as good as we’ve ever experienced,” he said.

“The ground was just the soft side of good and horses were making a lovely print in it. There was a full covering of turf and healthy grass, no wind or a cloud in the sky; it couldn’t have been a more perfect day for racing in terms of safety.

“I do have every confidence in the track. When you’ve got more than 10,000 races per year, we all know there will be a small number of injuries and even smaller number of fatalities.”

“I’d describe the track as being in superb conditions and the jockeys were complimentary during and after racing.”

Moffatt also confirmed he felt there were nothing that could be done to prevent the death of Smart Ruler, who he described as a ‘personal friend’.

“He was in great form and was making the running. We were all very happy with how he was going but it appears he had a heart attack.

“His legs were in perfect condition, there were no injuries, so I don’t feel there was anything wrong with the track. I walked it before and felt it was in good condition.

“I would have no problems with the racecourse whatsoever; it just sounds like an unfortunate day.”

British Racing Committed to Reducing Risk

Tragic days like Monday at Musselburgh give animal welfare activists ample ammunition in their quest to change jumps racing or outlaw the sport altogether.

But as Mounsey says, ‘everyone in British racing is committed to reducing risk and making racing safer for our participants’.

“For four horses to be fatally injured on one day of racing is very rare,” he continued. “Where appropriate some of the horses are also being sent for post-mortems to establish more information, including for one of the horses whose death seems to relate to a sudden collapse.

“Owing to the sport’s investment in welfare research and education and ongoing programme of innovation and improvement, the average fatality rate in Britain over the last few years has reduced to around 0.2% of runners.”