Horse-racing community still in shock
Getting walloped by some mysterious, unseen force as you step daintily across a nice stretch of well-manicured lawn is the stuff of nightmares.
For it to actually happen on a bright day in the British winter countryside with thousands of people watching is bizarre, not to mention horrifying.
The horse-racing world has been buzzing with talk about the incident at the weekend, when two hurdlers were killed and others badly shaken up by something that no one could see.
For those who haven’t heard the news, the tragedy happened as horses were walking in the parade ring before the first race of a National Hunt meeting at Newbury racecourse in the English county of Berkshire.
As a horse called Kid Cassidy stepped from the rubberised walkway onto the paddock grass he dropped to his haunches. It was the start of several minutes of alarm and confusion as other horses fell down or “wobbled” in the paddock.
Marching Song and Fenix Two died within seconds of collapsing.
Kid Cassidy’s trainer withdrew him from the race. Another runner apparently affected seemed troubled and trailed in last.
Stunned officials cancelled the rest of the programme.
At first, coincidental heart attacks were suspected. Then the horses’ water was checked.
But electrocution was soon the prime suspect. A stable lad had felt a tingling sensation and a lead rein had scorch marks.
Also, the two dead horses were shod in steel shoes, as opposed to the aluminium of the others and the rubber soles of the humans.
An old power cable was later dug up from beneath the paddock and is being examined, but by yesterday no forensic finding had been announced.
Racing people live with danger all the time, but this incident was so unusual and spooky that it had an unsettling effect in the game – and outside it.
There’s been an inevitable whine that this is evidence that horse-racing is cruel and uncaring. But any reasonable person can see that it was a freakish accident that had nothing to do with the actual care of racehorses – which is generally some notches above the nurturing standards of most other animals on Earth.
The anguish of the trainers and owners of the dead horses has been plain in interviews.
Champion jockey AP McCoy, rider of Kid Cassidy, said: “Saturday was certainly the most unreal day I’ve ever experienced on a racecourse.”
Nonetheless, the story is negative for the sport and UK racing authorities have been quick to try to remove any possible stigma for Newbury, a major venue, by rescheduling the abandoned meeting for today.
Marching Song was co-owned by Jennifer Lewis, wife of Jim Lewis, who raced the great steeplechaser Best Mate and has interests in South African runners, including the good horse Smart Banker.
Fenix Two was owned by billionaire businessman, legendary punter and sometime Manchester United co-owner JP MacManus.