Comedians Ricky Gervais and Sara Pascoe are urging the Government to take action after six horses died at this year’s Cheltenham Festival including four on the final day of racing.
They are two of 12 celebrities who have signed an open letter saying the horse racing industry has failed to protect these animals.
The letter was co-ordinated by Animal Aid, one of the UK’s largest animal rights organisations.
According to Animal Aid: “Two horses died on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival – Mossback and Report To Base. Both were just six years old.
“On the final day of racing, Sandsend was killed after a horrific injury in which his foreleg shattered. Dresden, North Hill Harvey and Some Plan all lost their lives in the final race, which was one of the ugliest in the history of the Cheltenham Festival.
“Around 200 horses die each year due to racing in Great Britain. Animal Aid believes that racing’s regulator, the British Horseracing Authority, is not fit for purpose, since it has failed to stop the tide of deaths.”
The campaign group is now calling for an independent body to be established.
It wants the body to have race horse welfare as its only interest, and to take ‘meaningful action to stop horses from dying’.
The suggestion has support – almost 30,000 people have signed a petition calling for this measure. According to Animal Aid, the largest number of those signing are from the Cheltenham constituency, ‘highlighting that not everyone from the town is supportive of horse racing’.
Isobel Hutchinson, Animal Aid Director, said: “We are delighted that these compassionate and high-profile people have joined us in calling for urgent action to end the horrific death toll that takes place on British racecourses.
“In an age where people are becoming increasingly concerned about animal protection, it is unthinkable that horses are still losing their lives for the sake of ‘sport’.
“It is bad enough that these horses are exploited for human entertainment, but the very least we can do is to ensure that they are not robbed of their lives in horrific and painful accidents”
Following the deaths, The British Horseracing Authority [BHA] has confirmed it will carry out a review of the Festival.
Jamie Stier, Chief Regulator Officer for the BHA, said: “Everyone who follows this sport does so because we love these fine animals and it is extremely sad when we lose any horse.
“The BHA will be reviewing the circumstances leading to the fatalities at the Cheltenham Festival. We will examine the evidence from the past week over the next few days before deciding how we will pursue the review.
“We will also be examining whether the existing penalties for misuse of the whip, and how they apply, constitute an adequate deterrent to jockeys.
“We continue to use research, safety measures, regulation and education to reduce fatality rates to as close to zero as possible.”
The letter was signed by Marc Abraham, Sam Carter, Sarah-Jane Crawford, Peter Egan, Ricky Gervais, Jasmine Harman, Dr Christian Jessen, Emma Milne, Sara Pascoe, Wendy Turner Webster, Dan Richardson and Carol Royle.