Cheltenham Festival

On Dec. 12 the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) published its review of the Cheltenham Festival, following a rigorous process of data evaluation, consultation and review of video evidence, led by a dedicated review group and with input from external experts, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and World Horse Welfare.

The BHA announced it would review the 2018 Cheltenham Festival following the deaths of six horses during the jump racing event’s four days that of a seventh horse euthanized shortly after the Festival due to surgery complications.

The 67-page report includes 17 recommendations aimed at reducing the risk of injuries occurring during the Festival and at other Cheltenham fixtures and across jump racing as a whole. The full report is available at britishhorseracing.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Cheltenham-Festival-Review-2018.pdf.

The review’s central focus areas fell across six broad categories:

  • The racecourses;
  • The obstacles;
  • Participant factors;
  • Starts, safety factors, and race tempo;
  • Programming and race conditions; and
  • Veterinary histories and protective measures.

The detailed analysis covered all races run at the Festival from 2007 to 2018, including 5,451 runners and 308 fallers.

The BHA said the evidence suggests that no single factor was definitively responsible for the equine fatalities at the 2018 Festival and that nontrack factors—such as veterinary, participant, and race condition factors—could potentially be of equal, or potentially greater, significance than track-related factors. The recommendations have been designed to reflect these findings.

“The scale of research and evaluation carried out has allowed us to form a greater understanding of the variable factors that contribute to risk at the Festival, and to put in place tangible recommendations which we expect, collectively, to make racing at the Cheltenham Festival safer,” said Brant Dunshea, the BHA’s chief regulatory officer for the BHA. “Our thanks go to all involved, especially Cheltenham Racecourse and The Jockey Club who have always fully supported the need for a review and have actively engaged in the process.

“The publishing of this report does not by any means represent the end of our commitment to enhancing welfare standards, at Cheltenham racecourse and across all British racecourses,” he added. “The report itself has found that nontrack factors are likely to be contributing to risk at Cheltenham, and the same may be true across all of jump racing. For this reason this project has become a springboard for wider research to better identify risk factors in jump racing, above and beyond the continuous program of innovation and improvement which has made the sport significantly safer in the last 20 years.”

Some of the BHA’s recommendations include:

  • Prerace veterinary examinations will be increased to include all runners in all races at the Festival, with a view to identifying any risk factors that might make it necessary to prevent a horse from running in a race;
  • Cheltenham and Jockey Club Racecourses (JRC) should monitor and consider the outcomes of Exeter University’s Horse Vision project, with a view to trialing obstacle coloring at their schooling grounds and subsequently at a JCR racecourse, should trials prove successful. Cheltenham and JCR (and all other jumps courses), along with relevant stakeholders, should make any recommended changes to obstacle coloring arising from these trials. The BHA will continue to expedite trials on training grounds and racecourses during 2018 and early 2019.
  • Reduction in maximum field size from 24 to 20 horses for all two-mile chases run at the course, with the race most likely to be affected by this being the Grand Annual Chase;
  • Race conditions of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle to be altered to remove all rider weight-claiming allowances, thereby incentivizing connections to secure the services of the most experienced jockeys;
  • Engaging with participants to further identify factors that contribute to risk. This will include undertaking analysis of faller rates by trainer and jockey for Cheltenham and all jump racing and engaging with those who have an incidence of fallers significantly higher than the average, alongside a wide range of other relevant participants; and
  • The industry supporting a major research project to develop a predictive model for identifying risk factors for all jump racing, including horse history and performance, rider and training factors. Any risks arising from this significant work will be addressed and mitigated appropriately.

All the BHA’s recommendations can be viewed at britishhorseracing.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Cheltenham-Review-2018-Recommendations.pdf.

An action plan for the implementation of the recommendations will be developed by no later than February 2019, working with Cheltenham, Jockey Club Racecourses, and others as appropriate.

Commentary in the aftermath of the 2018 Grand Annual, which saw three fatalities, suggested that the fatality rate had been adversely affected by the race being positioned at the end of Friday’s card. However, analysis of the County Hurdle and Grand Annual—comparing the faller rates of both races when they were placed as the last race compared to when situated elsewhere in the card—suggested that the race position on the card has little impact on faller rates.

Faller and injury rates at Cheltenham, as with all racecourses, will continue to be monitored. Where data and evidence show any further emerging trends, the BHA said it will work with the racecourse in question to consider any action that can be taken to further improve safety rates. Through this process of continuous analysis, innovation and improvement the fatality rate in British jump racing has fallen to 0.4% of runners.

“British Racing must work together to reduce the risk of injuries occurring at the Festival and indeed jump racing as a whole,” said Nick Rust, chief executive of the BHA. “The recommendations of this review are designed to achieve this.

“British racing has consistently and continuously improved its record on welfare outcomes over the last decade,” he continued. “However, Parliament has recently sent a clear message to our sport that we must raise our ambitions for welfare further. At the BHA, we share this view, and I am today calling on everyone in the sport to help us achieve even higher goals for welfare.

“The Cheltenham review helps demonstrate our sport’s commitment towards higher goals, but it is far from the end of our ambitions on this front. A cross-industry welfare board is currently being formed, with the intention of delivering a new strategy for the sport. I hope that everyone involved in British racing will join us in working to further enhance our good track record, and ensuring the sport remains relevant, understood, accepted, and embraced by the British public.”