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Sunday, 09 December, 2018

A decision made by fear of supplying fodder to those unsympathetic to racing

Horses are cooled down after the finish of race three at Cheltenham
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Horse welfare is paramount, but Cheltenham's decision to abandon Thursday's 3m2f mares' chase on the grounds of heat-related risks to the runners, while not unprecedented, raises some ticklish issues and potentially contentious consequences.

In a July heatwave back in 2009 Worcester was abandoned after one race when two runners collapsed owing to heat exhaustion. The temperature in the racecourse stables that afternoon was 32 degrees.

At Cheltenham on Thursday it reached 25 degrees and the stewards asked the course's veterinary team for guidance. Three horses had already been treated for heat stress earlier in the afternoon and veterinary opinion was that following a race over three and a quarter miles all the runners could require treatment.

Dan Skelton: keen to see more opportunities for horses to earn black-type

After the opener Richard Johnson's mount Dame Rose collapsed and died. But the fatality may have had nothing to do with the temperature and the mare is being sent for a post-mortem.

The action of the stewards split opinion among the trainers on course and will provide fodder for a furore or two over a pint in the Rising Sun.

Thursday's temperatures were exceptional for April but we could obviously have had similar hot and sunny conditions at Aintree last Saturday. Would Aintree have dared run the endlessly scrutinised Grand National in 25-degree heat?

If Cheltenham's decision is any guide the answer has to be no. It would be a risk too far.

On course both Johnson and Dan Skelton suggested the distress suffered by horses was exacerbated by the speed of change between cold and miserable weather to something you would expect on a Greek island.

There has been no chance for the horses to acclimatise to warmer weather. It was out of the fridge and into the frying pan.

Donald McCain: was critical of the decision to abandon the race

Some members of the old guard will regard the Cheltenham decision as being a fraction feeble and the likes of Donald McCain, Charlie Mann and Fergal O'Brien were critical.

But perhaps above all other courses, the decisions made at Cheltenham and Aintree are dictated – not merely guided – by fear of any grisly incident that could be food and drink for unsympathetic sections of the media and those who loathe racing per se.

Policy at racing's highest level is now an exercise in disaster avoidance, although trying to tame and domesticate one of the riskiest sports in the world is some high-wire act.

Racing erred on the safe side at Cheltenham yesterday. We can expect more of the same.


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Just five days ago would Aintree have dared run the Grand National in 25-degree heat? If Cheltenham's action is a guide then the answer is no

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