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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Henderson backs Cheltenham's cautious approach in decision to axe race

Horses are cooled at Cheltenham as the bookmakers seek shade under their umbrellas
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Champion trainer Nicky Henderson was among those who on Friday supported the decision to abandon a long-distance chase at Cheltenham owing to fears that staging the race in 25C heat was potentially dangerous.

On the day racing professionals were divided in their reaction to the cancellation of Thursday's 3m2f mares' chase, with Dan Skelton defending the move but Charlie Mann and Donald McCain being critical.

The stewards' move to axe the handicap came after Dame Rose died having suffered a heart attack following the first race. 

Nicky Henderson supported the abandoning of Cheltenham's long-distance chase

"It was a pretty unpleasant day," said Henderson. "We have to take horse welfare very seriously and those horses at Cheltenham were very much overheating. You cannot be too careful. I took my horse out of the bumper, one of the reasons being the heat.

"The further you go the more you amplify the situation, which is why they took out the long-distance chase. I think that was a perfectly sensible thing to do.

"You could ask why they didn't run the abandoned race at the end of the card, but it wasn't actually getting much cooler. Losing one race isn't going to cause the death of racing."

Champion Richard Johnson on Friday said the decision had been "well handled" by the stewards, while Flat trainer James Tate – who is also a vet – was another to offer support.

James Tate: "From what I've read about it I would say the right decision was made"

"From what I've read I would say the right decision was made," he said.

"People shouldn't confuse jumps races with Flat races or the effort required from horses. The horses at Cheltenham would also still have had shaggy, hairy winter coats. They would have got hotter than in the summer, when they have thin coats and are racing on quicker ground that places less emphasis on stamina."

Uttoxeter's clerk of the course Charlie Moore says the track's Summer Cup, staged annually in late June, was dropped in distance from four miles in 2009 – it is now run over three miles and two furlongs – in part due to heat concerns.

Moore said: "We went to the BHA's chief veterinary officer seeking support to reduce the distance due to concerns about the heat. At that stage it was felt this wasn't an issue, providing the right facilities and procedures were in place.

"We did bring the distance down to three and a half miles and then three and a quarter miles, partly with some thought to equine welfare."

Moore added: "I've been involved with summer jumping for 25 years and it has been clear the potential problems come from a rapid change in temperature from cold to hot, particularly as that leads to races being staged on drying, tacky ground."

Robin Mounsey: "We don’t see this in terms of setting a precedent"

BHA spokesman Robin Mounsey said: "We don’t see this in terms of setting a precedent. There was a specific set of circumstances in play – namely a sudden shift to unseasonal heat after a long cold winter – and the stewards made a decision based on those specific circumstances.

"They always had, and always will have, the capability and our backing to make decisions such as this in the interests of equine or human welfare, if appropriate."

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Losing one race isn't going to cause the death of racing
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