Video by ITN.
The worlds of both sport and horses were rocked today when news came from England that four horses had become agitated for no obvious reason in the paddock before the first race at Newbury Racecourse in Berkshire. The horses began rearing and falling as the jockeys were mounting. Within minutes two horses had died while two others rose back to their feet.
The rest of the horses continued to the start and the race was run, but track officials canceled the remainder of the program for the day. Rumors began immediately that the horses had been electrocuted, and that a groom had felt a shock come through the horse's body, and a lead line showed burn marks.
According to the Racing Post, unconfirmed reports suggested that some of the runners who actually took part in the race appeared to have burn marks around their mouths when their tack was removed.
In an interview late on Saturday, Joint Managing Director of Newbury Racecourse Stephen Higgins commented on the shoes worn by the four horses affected in the incident. He said that the two horses that died were shod with steel shoes. The two horses that went down and got back up were shod with aluminum shoes. The two metals would conduct electricity differently if a shock was transmitted through the grass.
He also mentioned that because horses have four legs instead of two, they are much more sensitive to electricity in the ground, and that that would explain why humans might not have noticed the electricity. There were also rubber mats on the ground which the horses were stepping off onto the grass when the incident occurred.
Commenting on the incident, Professor Tim Morris, Director of Equine Science and Welfare for the British Horseracing Authority, confirmed that a full investigation is under way: “Following the tragic events at Newbury today, our sympathies go out to connections of the two horses that died, Fenix Two and Marching Song.
"We have launched a full investigation into the events before the first race. Whilst there are suspicions that an electrical fault was the cause and this is being looked into by the racecourse and relevant authorities, it is important that we investigate other possible causes.
"Both horses have been sent for post mortem examinations and samples from both horses, and from the other two horses involved in the incident, have been taken and will be analysed. We will also be testing a sample of the water supply and have secured and will review all of the CCTV footage from the racecourse stables and footage from the parade ring itself at the time.
"We have gathered evidence and statements at the racecourse from the connections involved with the incident, including trainers, jockeys, stable staff and owners, the racecourse and BHA veterinary officers, and the racecourse executive including the health and safety officer."
On its Facebook page, the racecourse posted this message to the public:
The British Horseracing Authority quotes Jonjo O'Neill, trainer of Fenix Two, as saying: "Kid Cassidy was in front (leaving the paddock) and he took a turn. We thought he was bucking and kicking and he went down on his knees then he seemed to be OK. Mine reared up and we couldn't get him back, it was like he was stuck to the ground. It was the weirdest thing I've ever seen in my life."
"The whole team here is totally devastated and our condolences are with everyone connected to the horses and those that saw this happen. The Electricity Board are carrying out investigations now and a further statement will be issued tomorrow."
Marching Song's part-owner Graham Thorner said: "I was very fond of him and he had great potential. To a layman with no evidence, you would say it was electrical. The lad who was with him was saying 'I'm getting an electric shock off this horse'. It can't be coincidence four horses have done the same thing and two have died, all in the same area."
Press assistance from the British Horseracing Board was instrumental in preparing this report.
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