Cheltenham Diary: Cheltenham chiefs claim start fiasco not their fault

Cheltenham chiefs admit the start of yesterday’s JLT Novices’ Chase “looked untidy” —but insist starting procedures had been followed correctly.

Cheltenham Diary: Cheltenham chiefs claim start fiasco not their fault

Davy Russell might not agree. With the field reduced to a standing start, Zabana and his rider parted company when still appearing to be sideways on to the rest of the field and colliding with Outlander.

Russell, who went on to ride the winner of the next race, Mall Dini in the Pertemps Final, said: “It was frustrating. There was no indication we were going to go.

“My horse was static and I felt he was stuck to the ground, so I needed to move him.

“When I pulled sideways, he ducked from the tape and ran into Bryan [Cooper, on Outlander] and there was only one route for me then.

“It’s unfortunate and it was quite sharp the way it happened. Usually you get a chance to organise yourself.”

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The RSPCA will not rush to make any judgement on the issue of horse fatalities at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

The death of Niceonefrankie yesterday brought to five the tally of fatalities in the opening three days of the meeting.

The Govaness, Rezorbi and Pont Alexandre suffered fatal injuries on the opening day of the meeting, while No More Heroes had to be put down yesterday after damaging a tendon in the RSA Chase.

RSPCA equine consultant David Muir admits the deaths are “deeply concerning” but is keen to assess each case individually, rather than make a knee-jerk reaction to the incidents.

He said: “Obviously four deaths in two days is deeply concerning to us, but we need to consider each fatality individually before making an informed comment.

“The first thing I do is satisfy myself that the course was prepared in the right manner and from there we look at the issues relating to each death.

“I look at any issues of culpability and then see what we can learn for the future and once we have finished, hopefully the BHA take our comments on board.

“I’ve been concerned by the way hurdles react in races and have recently been looking at the issue of penultimate and ultimate hurdles where the fields really start to race and the possibility of an increased risk.”

Muir admits the sheer volume of runners at the Festival must be taken into consideration as the number of contenders far outstrips regular day-to-day action.

He said: “You can’t really compare Haydock or Hexham, with five or six runners, to Cheltenham, where there are 20 or 22 runners in many of the races.

“The competitiveness of the races might be an issue, but what are you supposed to do, ask the jockeys to race slowly? That would be beyond my remit.”

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Nicky Henderson has raised the possibility of Sprinter Sacre signing off for the season at Sandown next month.

In completing a remarkable comeback to his very best form, the ultra-talented chaser regained his Champion Chase crown three years after winning it for the first time.

He said: “He was good this morning. He ate up and seemed well. We won’t know for at least a week how much it took out of him. He does look amazing. For the last three weeks I kept looking at him and making sure we just held him together.

“His next engagement will be the Lambourn open day. He will be the star there and that’s what we need.

“The only race he could go for is at Sandown, as he won’t go to Aintree or Punchestown, but I’m not saying he will go to Sandown. If not he will have his holiday and then we will go again. I imagine we would go a similar route as I can’t see anything we would want to change.”

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