Horse death overshadows Sprinter Sacre win

Updated: April 5, 2013, 1:22 PM ET
Associated Press

AINTREE, England -- The Aintree Festival experienced more grief Friday following the death of another horse over the fences in the Grand National Steeplechase, overshadowing the latest victory by Sprinter Sacre.

Little Josh was destroyed after breaking a shoulder following a fall in the Topham Steeplechase, the fourth race of the day. He was the second horse to die at this year's festival, after Battlefront on Thursday.

"This injury was not treatable and it was the necessary course of action," said Prof. Chris Proudman, veterinary adviser at Aintree.

It's a major blow to organizers who made modifications to the course after four deaths in the past two Grand Nationals and complaints from animal-rights groups.

"We have made significant improvements in safety at the course, but we also recognize that jump racing carries risk you can never completely remove from the sport," said John Baker, who runs the Aintree course in Liverpool.

Jockey Liam Treadwell was hospitalized after falling from Regal d'Estruval in the same race.

On Thursday, Katie Walsh pulled up Battlefront midway through the Fox Hunters' Steeplechase. The 11-year-old horse collapsed and died shortly afterward from a suspected heart attack.

Aintree's restyled fences have been softened by removing wooden stakes and replacing them with a more forgiving plastic material. Critics believe still more needs to be done, with 21 horses having died in races over Grand National fences since 2001.

"Sadly there is a statistical probability that horses will die at the Grand National meeting," said Dr. Mark Kennedy, head of science at World Society for the Protection of Animals.

He said the risk horses are exposed to in a steeplechase at the three-day Aintree meeting is six deaths in 1,000 starts.

Nigel Twiston-Davies, the trainer of Little Josh, said the horse had "gone out doing what he loved most."

"It could happen anywhere, it could happen at home and it's not the fences -- it could have happened at a park course," Twiston Davies said.

About 30 minutes before Little Josh fell, Sprinter Sacre sauntered to victory over a top-class field in the Melling Chase, taking his unbeaten run over fences to nine races.

Running his first race over the longer distance of 2½ miles, the 1-3 favorite cruised along with jockey Barry Geraghty before taking the lead by jumping the next-to-last fence and accelerating clear of Cue Card to win by about five lengths.

"When you let him loose, like at the second-last, he does it too easily," said Geraghty, who completed a double for the day by winning the Topham Steeplechase on 14-1 shot Triolo d'Alene. "The two-and-a-half miles didn't make any difference. He has plenty of pace and is very versatile."

Sprinter Sacre has become the superstar of British horse racing since the retirement of the unbeaten Frankel last year.

"He's got a huge amount of ability and knows how to use it," trainer Nicky Henderson said. "I don't think anybody has taught him about jumping. It is sheer natural talent."

Sprinter Sacre is unbeaten since switching from hurdles in 2011, and beat a field containing Cue Card, who won a big race at the Cheltenham Festival last month, last year's champion Finian's Rainbow and Irish hope Flemenstar.

He was the third straight favorite to win on Ladies' Day -- the second day of the festival -- after My Tent Or Yours (4-11) in the Novices' Hurdle and Dynaste (9-4) in the Novices' Chase.

The 40-horse Grand National, which is the highlight of the festival, takes place on Saturday.


Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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