Tue, Feb 15, 2011 - Page 18 News List

Disused electric line likely killed racehorses

The Guardian, London

A section of power cable has been removed from beneath the paddock where two racehorses were seemingly electrocuted before the first race at Newbury on Saturday.

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nic Coward described the incident as a “bizarre moment,” the like of which he had never seen before.

Stuart Hogarth, from Southern Electric Power Distribution, said the cable had been taken away for “detailed inspection.”

Southern Electric and Newbury insist there was no danger to any of the 9,000-plus crowd at the meeting. However, it appears increasingly likely that the deaths of the two horses, Fenix Two and Marching Song, were caused by current from a disused cable under the parade ring.

Newbury managing director Stephen Higgins confirmed the likeliest possibility was that the cable had been damaged, possibly by recent verti-draining, a common turf maintenance procedure where spikes up to 46cm long are used to aerate the soil and reduce compaction.

“We’ve looked at drawings that are 40 years old and we’ve established that, before the 1992 grandstand was constructed, there was a cable potentially in that location,” he said. “We’d done some routine maintenance in the area earlier this week and whether or not that has disturbed something in the ground that has caused this catastrophic incident we’re not sure yet. It would be speculation to guess, but that looks like a distinct possibility.”

Asked whether the racecourse feared the prospect of legal action by the owners of either of the dead horses, Higgins declined to comment, although it is understood that Newbury has been in contact with the owners involved.

Former champion jump jockey Graham Thorner, who bred and part-owned Marching Song, said he was still “distraught.”

“He wasn’t one of many horses who get patted twice a year,” Thorner said. “I’m hands on all the time. I’m a bit upside down. It’s horrendous.”

“I was there when it happened. It was total confusion. Two people, including the lad, told me personally they were getting shocks from the horse,” Thorner added. “The people at Newbury are being sympathetic and understanding and say they’ll let us know the result of the investigation as soon as they know.”

A third horse, which was later found to be “traumatized,” is recovering.

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