One of British horseracing’s biggest meetings of the year was abandoned in tragic circumstances after two horses were apparently electrocuted by underground cables before the first race.
The meeting was halted after Fenix Two and Marching Song were killed by what is believed to have been an electric shock from underneath the paddock.
A further two horses were seen to be affected and a lead rein on one of the dead animals was rumored to have shown traces of burning.
The decision to call off the meeting was taken only after the first race had been completed. Officials at the Newbury track -decided it should go ahead even though trainers and jockeys expressed fears. Racecourse executives and stewards are sure to face questions over the decision to proceed, just minutes after the incident had left a number of the meeting’s 9,000 racegoers distressed.
Robert Garner, part-owner of Marching Song, said: “We were in the paddock and he went down just where we were standing. He tried to get up, but he couldn’t — he’d gone into rigor mortis.”
“The other horse was doing the same and I am told that when they went to touch him they got an electric shock off him, and when they went to take the bridle off they got another shock. It’s devastating,” Garner said.
Leading national hunt trainer Nicky Henderson described the accident as being “like something out of a Dick Francis novel.”
“It appeared that it was all happening in one area, as one of our horses, Kid Cassidy, had fallen over,” Henderson said. “My daughter Tessa said: ‘Dad, one of yours is down.’ Thinking he was just being a bit fresh, I legged AP [jockey AP McCoy] up and sent them down [to the start]. Then, within 30 seconds, two others were on the ground.”
“I rushed down to the start and AP said he had gone down like a bolted rabbit. His heartbeat was normal, but something had -happened to him in the paddock and I wasn’t going to take the chance. It’s the most horrendous thing I have seen in 32 years in racing,” Henderson said. “It would appear to me that electrocution is the likeliest thing. When horses stepped off the rubber matting on to the grass, they didn’t seem to be able to get off it. There’s no doubt that Kid Cassidy was very, very lucky, as he was very close to being the third.”
Newbury’s estate manager, Richard Osgood, said: “We’re going to hold a full inquiry and immediate postmortems are being carried out on both of the dead horses. I don’t know of any cabling, the main [electrical] feed to the buildings is on the other side. This place is over 100 years old and I suppose it’s possible that there might be something old, but really, I just don’t know.”
Osgood added that no electrical maintenance work had been carried out in the area since the last meeting.