WILLIE MULLINS witnessed the highs and lows of National Hunt racing on a dramatic first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Mullins flew out of the blocks landing the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Klassical Dream at 6-1.
The Closutton maestro struck again with Duc Des Genievres before Mullins’ luck ran out.
Benie Des Dieux was cantering all over the field under Ruby Walsh in the Mares’ Hurdle before taking a tumble at the final flight with the race at her mercy.
The final race of the day – the National Hunt Chase – was a gruelling affair with only four horses completing the race.
Sadly, Mullins’ Ballyward was reported to have suffered a fatal fall in the contest and despite the best efforts of the veterinary team Ballyward was put to sleep.
The incident comes after Cheltenham introduced new safety measures following last year’s six equine fatalities at the Festival.
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What measures are being introduced for Cheltenham?
A review into the fatalities at last year’s Festival warned that welfare issues threaten the future of the sport if they are not addressed.
A total of 17 recommendations are set to be implemented, including the following for the Festival:
- Enhanced veterinary checks on all runners at the Festival and the veterinary team will be able to stop horses running if they believe they are unsuitable to race.
- Targeted alterations to race conditions at the Festival to improve safety.
- All horses running at the Festival will be assessed by a team team of five veterinary surgeons who will ask for horses to be trotted away and towards them.
- The horses will be monitored, including checking over their joints and tendons – with this process taking up to 10 minutes for each runner.
- Reducing the maximum number of runners in the Grand Annual Chase from 24 to 20. Three horses died in last year’s renewal.
- Changing conditions of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle to encourage trainers to use more experienced jockeys rather than riders who can claim a weight allowance.
- All jockeys who have not ridden at Cheltenham since October 2017 will be required to walk the course with a BHA jockey coach.
- Cheltenham racecourse to ensure adequate provision and most effective placement of cooling facilities, including equine cooling fans for post-race recovery.
- Compulsory daily briefing of riders during the Festival to include increased focus on their responsibilities towards equine welfare.
- The welfare of the horse is a primary responsibility of all riders. Rules relating to pulling up fatigued runners must be appropriately scrutinised and enforced, to encourage positive and responsible behaviour.
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